It can be confusing, all this talk about the Covid-19 pathogen and how one becomes infected by it. Most Americans came to the seriousness of the disease somewhat late– even after it was publicly declared to have become a full-blown pandemic.
A part of the reason for our seeming reluctance to get excited about this version of the flu is that most of us remember the avian flu of 1997 (which was checked by killing a million-and-a-half birds), and the swine flu of 2009 (for which antiviral medicines were available to prevent and treat). In the case of the CoronaVirus, though, there is no cure and no medicines available to help.
Medical professionals have warned that the CoronaVirus has not yet peaked. There are new infections daily and people are continuing to die. If there is any bright light in the midst of this present darkness it is that many more people have recovered than have died.
That being said, it is interesting that Harvey Fineberg, head of the standing committee on Emerging Infectious Diseases and 21st Century Health Threats wrote a letter on April 1st to Kelvin Droegemeier, who heads up the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) saying something most of us thought we already understood. He said:
“Currently available research supports the possibility that (COVID-19) could be spread via bioaerosols generated directly by patients’ exhalation.”
In other words, it’s possible, Fineberg said, that Covid-19 can be spread by an infected person simply by breathing.
Most of us thought that it was coughing and sneezing that created the possibility of airborne transmission, and we have accepted the idea of social distancing (6 – 10 feet) to reduce the chance of contact with those knowingly or unknowingly carrying the infection.
Even the increasing number of Americans wearing masks have done so based on the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control that we do so in public settings where social distancing is difficult. ‘Contact’ was until now the name of the infection game.
This recent sharing between the heads of these two agencies changes things. And it’s frightening. Where before we could rely on the presence of symptoms in others to assess our level of risk (i.e., coughing or sneezing, sweating, fever), now it appears that reducing the chance of personal contact may not be enough. If Fineberg is correct, we must now also reduce the risk of breathing ‘contaminated’ air.
Since a person might be unknowingly carrying the infection, the only way to actually avoid ‘contaminated’ air is to wear a mask in the presence of anyone who doesn’t live with you. Staying at home takes on a whole new imperative with the sharing of the Fineberg letter.
Hopefully most Americans (those who can) will take the warnings seriously and remain in their homes except to do essential tasks, and when out, to wear a mask to minimize exposure to possibly contaminated air.