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Addressing the airborne spread of COVID-19

A report released earlier this week suggested that COVID-19 may be spread through microscopic respiratory droplets up to several meters in enclosed indoor spaces. While informative for ongoing research on airborne spread of the virus, the report is not conclusive and has not changed predominate thinking or protocols around infection management and prevention.

Current guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recognize that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is routinely transmitted through minuscule aerosols, but rather predominantly through large respiratory droplets, which are released into the air when a person talks, coughs or sneezes but fall quickly to the ground.

What we know
Our Infection Prevention experts reviewed and analyzed the article. They concluded that the findings do not bring to light new information. Rather, it reiterates what we already think we know about COVID-19:

  • We know that most viruses have the potential for airborne spread, and this does occur at times and in specific situations.
  • We also know that COVID-19 is primarily spread by respiratory droplets unlike other diseases such as tuberculosis and chicken pox, which we know can be spread more easily through airborne transmission. Otherwise we would be seeing much higher rates of transmission.

We continue to learn more about COVID-19 every day. Our clinical and scientific experts are routinely assessing new information and data to help improve our standards of care. As with any virus of infectious disease in an evolving world and health care environment, Providence and our family of organizations continually assesses and adapts for the protection of our caregivers and patients.

This article serves as a good reminder that we should continue doing what we’re doing to prevent spread, using existing infection prevention practices. It also highlights the following recommendations that should be considered whenever possible:

  • Provide sufficient and effective ventilation (supply clean outdoor air, minimize recirculating air) particularly in public buildings, workplace environments, schools, hospitals, and senior care facilities.
  • Supplement general ventilation with airborne infection controls such as local exhaust, high efficiency air filtration, and germicidal ultraviolet lights where appropriate and possible.
  • Avoid overcrowding, particularly in public transport and public buildings.

Learn more about the claims in the article and a read a critical review by our experts.