Airborne Transmission


Tips for Repression of SARS-CoV-2

Op-Ed by Joseph Allen, director of the Healthy Buildings program at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and co-author of “Healthy Buildings: How Indoor Spaces Drive Performance and Productivity.”


Such super-spreader events appear to be happening exclusively indoors, where airborne transmission is more likely. Consider the infamous March 10 choir practice in Skagit County, Wash., where one member of the choir infected 52 of 60 other members, leading to two deaths. Local public health departments did an investigation and concluded that all three modes of transmission were likely involved in the outbreak. But this likely under-emphasizes the role that airborne transmission played. Neither surface nor droplet transmission is likely to have infected so many people in one event. But we do know that when people sing, they emit as many aerosol particles as they do when they’re coughing. The practice also happened from 6:30 to 9 p.m., when most buildings turn off their ventilation systems. (Local investigators don’t mention building ventilation in their report, so we are left to infer.)

The evidence suggests that mitigating airborne transmission should be at the front of our disease-control strategies for covid-19. In some ways, that only bolsters public health measures already in place, such as avoiding groups and wearing masks in public. But it also requires that we minimize exposure to airborne pathogens, especially indoors.


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