Vancouver – BC Public Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has run into headwinds over her dismissal of a report by 239 scientists from 32 nations asking the World Health Organization to change its guidance to state that the Sars-Cov-2 virus that causes Covid-19 is airborne.
When asked by a Canadian Press Reporter on Monday what she thought of the report, Henry was dismissive, labeling the report as something meant to “foment controversy” and added she was on the side of WHO on guidance that it’s spread when one is in close proximity to an infected person’s droplets. Therefore, through singing, coughing or sneezing.
But the World Health Organization in its news briefing Tuesday said it has been talking and engaging with the group of scientists and engineers since April about the issue of whether the virus is airborne .
Dr. Benedetta Allegranzi, technical lead for WHO said the group of scientists have been collaborating with WHO for some time.
“We acknowledge that there is emerging evidence in this field as there is in other fields regarding this Covid-19 virus and pandemic and therefore we have to be open to this evidence and its implications,” she said.
Dr. Allegranzi added that the the response to countering the virus – precautions, would also require to be looked into.
Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove also reiterated that there has been collaboration with the group since the scientists first wrote to WHO about modes of transmission on April 1.
She said WHO has been talking about aerosol and airborne transmission of the virus for sometime. A new package of proposals is being prepared and may contain advice about ventilation, distancing and masking.
The implication of any change would pressure governments to issue mandatory masking for citizens particularly in closed environments and WHO might have to change its distancing rule from one-metre to where BC already is at 2-metres.
On Tuesday, Henry discussed her own ideas which are in line with WHO that large and small droplets from people infect people. Calling the idea floated by the scientists as a bit of a “tempest in a teapot.” She described Measles and smallpox as two viruses she thinks of as airborne because of the distance they travel.
“The WHO has been doing an amazing job to keep up with what’s going on and the way that, at least the report that I saw, that was presented …I think it was trying to foment a bit of controversy,” said Henry.
“When we talk about something as being airborne transmitted, what were talking about are viruses that in very small particles that can last in the air for many hours often and can float in the air column and can be transmitted down the hallway or through the ventilation,” she said.
Henry said typically some viruses are airborne – such as measles and smallpox.
Although the initial cloud of virus released from a carrier is in the air, Henry is not ready to subscribe to a theory that says Covid-19 is an airborne disease similar to measles or smallpox.
“A separate study conducted by the National Institutes of Health showed the Sars-Cov-2 virus can remain in the air for up to three hours..
“The virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is stable for several hours to days in aerosols and on surfaces, according to a new study from National Institutes of Health, CDC, UCLA and Princeton University scientists in The New England Journal of Medicine,” sad NIH.
“The scientists found that severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) was detectable in aerosols for up to three hours, up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel.
“The results provide key information about the stability of SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19 disease, and suggests that people may acquire the virus through the air and after touching contaminated objects.”.