NEW YORK (AP) – America’s top public health agency has caused confusion by publishing – and then deleting – an apparent change in its stance on how easily coronavirus can be spread from person to person via tiny droplets that travel through the air.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said that the virus spreads primarily through airborne droplets, such as those generated when someone coughs or sneezes. Most of the agency’s recommendations on social distancing are based on that concept, that is, that 6 feet (1.8 meters) is enough distance for two people who do not wear masks to be safe.
In interviews, CDC officials have also acknowledged growing evidence that the virus can spread in even smaller droplets that disperse in the air and cover a larger area (a fact called aerosol transmission). That is one of the reasons why public health experts recommend the use of masks, which can slow down or reduce contact with both the droplets and these particles.
For months, the agency’s website has provided little information about aerosol transmission. So when the CDC quietly released an update on Friday detailing these particles, the agency’s position seemed to have changed. The publication noted that the virus can remain suspended in the air and travel more than 1.8 meters, and the authorities stressed the importance of ventilation in closed spaces. The post also included singing and breathing as ways the virus can get into the air.
On Monday, federal health officials indicated that the publication was in error and that it was made before a full edit was carried out and received approval. They noted that the CDC plans to clarify the agency’s position. However, the agency has not released a statement or update so far.
In a statement released Monday, the agency noted that the update to the “How COVID-19 Spreads” page occurred “without a proper internal technical review.”
“We are reviewing the process and hardening our criteria to review all guidelines and updates before they are posted on the CDC website,” the statement said.
One expert said the episode could further dent public trust in the CDC.
“The continuing inconsistency in government guidance on COVID-19 has seriously compromised the nation’s trust in our public health agencies,” said Dr. Howard Koh, a Harvard University professor of public health, who was an official. senior in the Department of Health and Human Services during the Barack Obama administration.
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