Many ask about the possible airborne spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus causing COVID-19. In the OnCuba special we made reference to a study published by The New England Journal of Medicine on March 17, 2020 that indicated that this coronavirus could remain in the air for 3 hours.
However, this study did not confirm transmission through this route. According to reports from the World Health Organization (WHO) artificial conditions had been used that did not allow conclusive results; furthermore, the necessary viral charge to infect is still unknown.
What does droplet or aerosol transmission mean?
When people become infected with respiratory viruses, they release viral particles every time they speak, breathe, cough, or sneeze. These particles are enclosed in balloons of mucus, saliva, and water. The larger balloons fall faster than they evaporate, so they sprinkle nearby areas, these are traditionally called “droplets.” Smaller balloons evaporate faster than they fall, leaving dry viruses that linger in the air and travel farther, these are called “aerosols.” When researchers say a virus is “in the air,” like measles or chickenpox, they mean it moves like aerosol.
So far the WHO has said that the transmission of this virus appears to be (like the other coronaviruses causing the SARS and MERS diseases) by droplets, and not by aerosol. However, groups of scientists are analyzing this possibility, without reaching conclusive results so far.
A study by the University of Nebraska revealed the presence of genetic material from the virus in the air. Meanwhile, Lydia Bourouiba, PhD, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), has studied the physical effect of turbulent gas clouds caused by exhalations, coughs and sneezes, concluding that these effects can modify what is known of transmission of the virus. The doctor recommends continuing to study the biophysics of host-to-host transmission and the need for adequate protection measures, especially for highly exposed health personnel.
Every time we hear or read scientists referring to the characteristics, transmission routes, and the effects of this virus in humans, they use words like: “it appears to be,” “it suggests,” “although it is not confirmed.” Sometimes we hear them say flatly, “We don’t know.” They are not ignorant, the words are not spoken at random, as scientists know that there is not enough evidence yet to confirm certain things.
So, what do we do?
Information from authorized sources of what is known so far and common sense can dictate some behaviors to follow:
- If the virus is transmitted from person to person…
- Everyone who can should stay at home.
- Do not attend any place where there may be crowds.
- Go out as little as possible and taking all precautions.
- Do not allow those who live with you to leave the house unnecessarily.
- Do not receive visitors.
- Do not kiss anyone in the face, avoid being kissed.
- If we can become infected through the hands, we then break that chain by touching our face (eyes, nose, mouth) with contaminated hands…
- Wash your hands constantly with soap and water and/or disinfecting solutions.
- Do not touch our faces.
- If you have long hair, try to keep it up, it will make you touch your face less.
- Do not shake hands with other people.
- Open doors or windows, touch elevator buttons (any object that many people touch) with the opposite hand to the one we regularly use.
- Every time we touch something that other people have touched, wash our hands.
- If you have to go outside, wash your hands and all exposed areas when you return home.
- If we don’t know exactly how far the virus can be transmitted…
- Keep as much distance as possible between you and others (the WHO recommends a minimum of 6 feet).
- When giving or receiving things (for example at the market, at the pharmacy), do so at a distance
- Don’t speak directly to another person’s face and avoid having them do the same to you.
- If you can, use stairs and avoid elevators.
- Avoid being in closed rooms or spaces (like a car) with other people.
- When you cough or sneeze, use the inside of your elbow to cover yourself, this way you avoid spreading droplets and contaminating your hands.
- Use a facemask when you think you can expose yourself to the virus or expose others. When you go out into the street, when you receive someone (medical personnel, personnel who are doing research, anyone who does not live with you). When using it, keep in mind the rest of the precautions, the facemask can help but it does not completely protect you or others.
How to put on, use, take off and discard a facemask?
Before putting on a facemask, wash your hands with an alcohol-based disinfectant or soap and water.
Cover your mouth and nose with the facemask and make sure there are no gaps between your face and the mask.
Avoid touching the facemask while wearing it; if you do, wash your hands with an alcohol-based disinfectant or soap and water.
Change your mask as soon as it is wet and do not reuse single-use masks.
To remove the mask: remove it from behind (do not touch the front of the mask); immediately dispose of it in a closed container; and wash your hands with an alcohol-based disinfectant or soap and water.
- If the virus can remain with the ability to infect for a time on different surfaces…
- Do not enter the house with the shoes you used on the street
- Every time you touch something that comes from the street, wash your hands
- Wash your dog’s paws if he went outside.
- Avoid touching surfaces when you are away from home, when you do, reinforce the measures: wash your hands as soon as you can, and meanwhile, do not touch your face or touch others.
- If you have gone outside and are at risk of exposure to the virus, take off the clothes you wore when you get home and wash them.
- If it seems people over 65 and those with pre-existing chronic diseases are the most vulnerable…
- Protect them as much as possible. If there is someone who can go out for you, let them do it.
- Keep the most distance possible.
- Do not expose them to unnecessary visits.
- If there is someone in the house who has not been able to comply with the isolation, take extreme measures to protect the most vulnerable person.
- If we know that the disease is highly transmissible and that in some cases it develops complications…
- At the slightest symptom, even just one of them, inform the doctor, and strictly follow the prevention and isolation measures
- In case of alarming symptoms, go to the emergency room or to the established place during this crisis.
In addition to these measures, I try to “disinfect” everything that enters the house. We probably found out later that some of these measures were unnecessary, but since we don’t have all the information it is still preferable to be extra careful. Doing everything I can do responsibly helps me to act without panic, to stay calm, which is the most useful thing.
Many of us find it difficult to maintain social distancing, and we think that demanding it can be considered impolite, quite the opposite. Practice distancing and demand it outright, be blunt in respecting the space of others and demanding that they respect yours. Now do not hug, do not kiss, do not get near; you are not only being respectful, it is the greatest gesture of love for others you can have now.
Acting recklessly, thinking that it isn’t your turn, that you are strong as a horse, that you don’t need a mask, that you are being foolish not to go out or get close to others, that those who are being cautious are scary cats; doesn’t make you stronger, it is a sign of ignorance and you are being extremely irresponsible, not only with yourself, but towards everyone.
My last recommendation would be to always inform yourself through authorized sources, unfortunately I have read many reports that echo information that is not proven, even nonsense. One strategy I recommend is to always look for the primary source of the information, verify that they are scientifically reliable sources. The WHO and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) have official pages specifically for this pandemic.
Many recommendations are circulating from the most diverse sources, don’t imagine any of them offers you the cure for this disease, unfortunately it does not exist yet.
The fundamental problem of this pandemic is the risk that the emergency services crash. This is serious, not only for the treatment of those who may have developed complications by COVID-19, but for those who need these services for any other reason. Avoiding getting infected is, in addition to a necessary individual precaution, an essential act of solidarity. There is no one: child, young person, elderly, healthy, sick, who can feel completely safe; we have an obligation to protect others and the health personnel who care for everyone.
In addition to the measures that governments are obliged to take, individual responsibility and solidarity will be the only way to get out of this and find ourselves on the other side, we all have to come together to achieve this.