Contributed by: Rachana Arya

As the coronavirus pandemic impacts millions across the world and brings economies to a grinding halt, there is a lot of debate about how the virus spreads. Every day, scientific and medical teams refine our understanding of its transmission. Many of the theories we had about it just a few months ago have been proved incorrect and recent research has revealed some surprising findings on this front, which is not good news.

 

The ugly route of COVID-19 transmission

Scientists have speculated for months that this new coronavirus may be spread through the air. Now overwhelming scientific evidence has established that catching the virus is much likelier through airborne transmission than by surface contact. This means that the chances of getting the virus from surfaces — although plausible — seem to be rare. 

The coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 is indeed transmitted predominantly through the air via respiratory droplets—little blobs of liquid—released as someone coughs, sneezes, or talks. Viruses contained in these droplets–the smallest of small–can linger in the air for extended periods of time and pose a danger to people in enclosed spaces and indoor environments where people are in close quarters. 

A recent study, published in the famous journal, ‘The Lancet,’ asserted that air transmission is predominant and dismissed chances of surface transmission of the virus. The medical journal stated that “consistent and strong evidence” is available to attest to this fact. This knowledge is also corroborated by Dr. Paul, a member of NITI Aayog, who acknowledged in a press briefing that surface transmission was very less as compared to airborne transmission of COVID-19.

 

Implications for public health measures

The COV-19 virus is said to latch itself to droplets released by infected people when they sneeze or cough, as well as droplets that leave an infected person’s mouth when they talk. These liquid droplets vary in size, ranging from larger ‘respiratory droplets’ to smaller ‘aerosols’.

Now that’s a major deviation from the prior position: that direct person-to-person contact was the main vector. 

But what exactly does this imply for us? 

Does this mean that there is a much stronger chance of contracting the virus while talking to a patient — even at an appropriate distance — in a poorly ventilated room, than touching the same elevator button as one? 

Maybe YES!

And — most importantly — does this mean that there should be changes in our security protocol to mitigate the pandemic?  

Definitely YES!

 

Act where it matters most

But, hold on!

Scientists are not prompting you to take your foot off the gas and throw away your sanitizers just yet. What they are flagging is that ‘droplet measures’ such as hand washing and surface cleaning, while not unimportant, should be given less emphasis than airborne measures. 

With the virus still raging, it is important that we fully understand the transmission routes and embrace new research rather than relying on recommendations based on old data.  We need to remain vigilant and be poised to respond to the new infection control guidance by maintaining “airborne precautions,” such as:

  • Minimizing confined and closed spaces with poor ventilation
  • Staying home and minimizing social interactions as much as possible
  • Maintaining a physical distance of at least 6 feet, whenever possible
  • Wearing well-fitting masks — even simple, cloth-based ones — serve the purpose
  • Ensuring environmental ventilation in closed settings
  • Limiting exposure to any public indoor environments, such as pubs, restaurants, religious buildings, gyms, and supermarkets.
  • Visiting someone inside his or her home is something you can avoid (spending a short amount of time with someone outdoors is generally safer)
  • Practicing good hand hygiene (hand-washing) for at least 20 seconds
  • Keeping the windows and doors of the house open to encourage cross ventilation.

Aside from these procedures, adequate ventilation can contribute to reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

Meanwhile, as the coronavirus continues to attack us with its various mutant forms, it is important not to forget that the pandemic is far from over. We’re getting close to the finish line but we need to make sure that we do not stumble there.

Hence, mask up!

 

Concerned you may have COVID-19?

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