A research team at the University of Florida has confirmed Covid-19 does live in aerosol droplets, and that the standard 6-foot social distancing protocols used around the world as safety precautions may not be sufficient.
"It's unambiguous evidence that there is infectious virus in aerosols," Linsey Marr, an expert in airborne spread of viruses who was not involved in the work told the New York Times.
For this study, researchers collected air samples from a room in a hospital ward dedicated to Covid-19 patients who were not subject to procedures that are known to produce aerosols, the Times reported.
The research team collected two sets of samples, one at approximately 7 feet from the patients and another at about 16 feet, and found that Covid-19 virus contained in samples at both distances could infect cells in a lab dish.
Although not peer reviewed, scientists are pointing to this study as a potential 'smoking gun,' regarding the issue of aeorsol transmission.
If this isn't a smoking gun, then I don't know what is. Successful isolation (cytopathic effect) of SARS-CoV-2 in aerosols collected 2-5 m from patients, genome identical to NP swab, TCID50:genome copies close to 1:1! /1 https://t.co/OJ7jo2P2a0— Linsey Marr (@linseymarr) August 6, 2020
News of the study comes as Covid-19 cases in the United States continue to climb, and as many states continue reopening plans. As of Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control reported more than 5 million confimed cases in the U.S. and more than 162,000 deaths. Texas Governor Greg Abbot, a Republican, urged vigilance among his constituents Tuesday, as the Lone Star State attempts to reopen after becoming a Covid-19 hotspot in July.
"The numbers are moving in the right direction," Abbot told The Teaxs Tribune, "but it is fair to say that hospital capacity for those with COVID-19 remains too high."
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Top U.S. Infectious Disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has held his post as director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984, has previously cautioned about the possibility and probability of Covid-19 transmission via aerosol droplets. If confirmed, the initial findings of the University of Florida study would bolster his concerns, and indicate the virus can survive greater distances than once thought.
"We know that indoors, those distance rules don’t matter anymore," Dr. Robyn Schofield, an atmospheric chemist at Melbourne University in Australia, who measures aerosols over the ocean told the the Times. "It takes about five minutes for small aerosols to traverse the room even in still air."
As Americans grapple with potential school reopenings and the majority of voters continue to favor remote-learning alternatives to in-person schooling, health experts continue to advocate wearing masks to limit Covid-19 transmission. A group of 12,000 infectious disease experts last week sent a letter to Vice President Mike Pence, who heads up the U.S.' Coronoavirus Task Force, urging him to push for a federal mask mandate which, they wrote, "is needed to save lives."
"Specifically, we urge you to publicly issue a strong federal directive calling for mask requirements in all states," the letter, signed by top leaders of the Infectious Diseases Society of America and the HIV Medicine Association read, "to launch a public education campaign about the importance of wearing masks or face coverings, and to require all individuals in the White House complex to wear a mask at all times when they are in the company of others, both for their own protection and to serve as role models for our country."
Pence has refused to issue such a mandate, arguing he doesn't think there is a need for it.
Still, the new study ought to be enough to give people pause, Dr. John Lednicky, the team's lead virologist at the University of Florida, told the Times.
"We can grow the virus from air—I think that should be the important take-home lesson," he said.