Airborne COVID-19 Transmission: It All Comes Back to the Mask

Is six feet really the limit for person-to-person COVID-19 transmission? Unfortunately for businesses, the answer to that question seems to depend on who you ask.

Recently, it may also have depended on when you ask.

On Sept. 18, the CDC posted on its website that the coronavirus is transmitted mainly through the air.

This would mean the virus can travel more than six feet, particularly indoors.

Four days later, the CDC removed the language from its website, saying the post was premature and they were still reviewing the issue.

Early in the pandemic, “superspreader” incidents were identified, with the implication that certain people infected with the coronavirus were more likely to infect a larger number of people.

Superspreader Buildings?

Now, a growing number of scientists are looking at these incidents differently: It’s not a person, it’s a building’s poor indoor air circulation that’s the cause of superspreading.

While the CDC makes up its mind on the issue, this summer, more than 200 scientists urged the World Health Organization to seriously consider that the coronavirus can be airborne spread by tinier aerosol droplets for distances greater than the length of an average room, not just larger droplets that travel a maximum of six feet.

HVAC Experts Weigh In

ASHRAE, the organization that sets voluntary standards for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC), says, for the coronavirus, “airborne transmission in some circumstances seems probable.”

On April 14, 2020, ASHRAE adopted a new Position Document on Infectious Aerosols. It states, “that facilities of all types should follow, as a minimum, the latest published standards and guidelines and good engineering practice.”

ASHRAE’s coronavirus resource page spells out various strategies.

In its coronavirus guideline materials, ASHRAE says no HVAC system can completely eliminate the aerosol transmission of viruses.

On top of that, making certain changes to a building’s HVAC system doesn’t exactly come under the category of “things a safety manager can do today to reduce the hazard of coronavirus spread.”

As a safety pro, you know that PPE is the hazard control of last resort.

However, because we still do not know many things about the coronavirus, this is a situation in which PPE – cloth masks – is a must.

Want to learn more on how to better protect your business against COVID-19? Click here to register for NASP’s COVID-19 Infectious Disease Prevention Specialist course TODAY!

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