U.S. health officials have finally acknowledged that coronavirus is airborne and can travel more than six feet in Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines updated Friday.
'COVID-19 spreads when an infected person breathes out droplets and very small particles that contain the virus. These droplets and particles can be breathed in by other people or land on their eyes, noses, or mouth,' the guidance reads.
'People who are closer than 6 feet from the infected person are most likely to get infected.'
Previously, the CDC warned that coronavirus spread primarily through close contact, coughs and sneezes, not through what's known as 'airborne transmission.'
Viruses that are airborne are tiny enough to travel farther distances as aerosols, rather than larger 'droplets.'
Evidence has mounted for months that coronavirus travels this way, but the CDC largely punted on the issue, saying it was still assessing the data, until now.
The agency's advice also continues to move away from warning about the risk of contracting the virus from surfaces, though the new guidance does acknowledge their potential to become contaminated.
The CDC acknowledged back in October that there was the possibility of airborne transmission, but downplayed this risk, saying that the risk of transmission was low at distances greater than six feet all though such cases had been documented.
Indoor settings among close contacts remain the primary hotbed for the spread of coronavirus.
But the CDC's new guidance at last acknowledges how the virus can travel long distances in a fine mist and inhaled.
With plenty of anecdotal stories of people mysteriously developing COVID-19 without any known close contacts being infected, aerosol transmission seemed like it would inevitably be recognized as a mode of spread.
The CDC has finally removed language specifying that the virus spreads with 'close contact.'
CDC's updates also come at a poignant moment, a week after it advised that fully vaccinated people can safely go without a mask for just about any outdoor activity, regardless of the vaccination status of those around them - unless they are in a crowd.
However, the agency still says that unvaccinated people need to continue to wear masks outdoors, unless they are exercising with members of their own household or with fully vaccinated friends and family.
It also said that fully vaccinated people can ditch their masks during small indoor gatherings with other fully vaccinated people - which President and first lady Joe and Jill Biden, as well as Vice President Kamala Harris were pictured doing for the first time in the past two weeks.
The change was long-anticipated and welcome, but also left confusion in its wake because the U.S. does not require people to carry proof of vaccination, meaning there's no way to tell who is and isn't vaccinated.
Like any form of transmission, aerosol transmission is less likely to occur outdoors than in.
But the newly articulated warning about the ability of the virus to spread further than six feet in fine particles comes at a time when more Americans - vaccinated or unvaccinated - are going maskless.
And many experts have said that the CDC has been slow to change much of its guidance throughout the pandemic.
'CDC. has now caught up to the latest scientific evidence, and they've gotten rid of some old problematic terms and thinking about how transmission occurs,' Virginia Tech aerosol expert Linsey Marr told the New York Times.
Experts clarified that the risk of aerosol spread of coronavirus is still very low outdoors because ample space and wind tend to quickly carry away and disperse particles of the virus.
That means that you're less likely to come into contact with any viral particles and, if you do, the concentration is less likely to be enough to infect you because the risk of contracting the virus increases with the volume you encounter.
But if you are indoors, especially in a poorly ventilated room, the virus is liable to linger in the air and remain a threat - a danger the CDC has finally acknowledged.
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