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COVID-19: Aerosol vs. Droplet

Transmission is the difference!

by Eric Holdeman / July 5, 2020

The New York Times had an article in their Sunday edition that pointed to a number of scientists (289?) who wrote the World Health Organization (WHO) urging them to look specifically at the possible transmission of the coronavirus via aerosol versus the commonly held belief "today" that transmission is only via droplets. 

Here's an article from way back in April of this year, Airborne vs. Aerosol vs. Droplet: What's the Difference?

There is a big difference. A huge difference! If the virus can be transmitted via aerosol, then the six feet of social distancing we have been following for indoor areas may not be as effective as we first thought. The quality of our masks also becomes more of an issue.The Times article pointed out the very conservative nature of the WHO and how they approach changing their polices. 

A few thoughts about the above. 

It is hard to believe, but it has only been five full months of major recognition of COVID-19. So to say it "novel" is an understatement. We don't know everything about this disease that we need to know. While we have been hearing "droplet" all along, I would not be surprised if at some point in the future "aerosol" becomes the new term used for how the virus is transmitted in the air. 

The problem with these changes is that people don't like change. Changing the threat from droplet to aerosol may be the correct thing to do, but it will cause more distrust in the medical, science and public health community. Especially, in this era of mistrust in science and government.

To tie this back to emergency management. When were in the design process for the then going to be totally new $30M King County Regional Communications and Emergency Coordination Center, I asked the designers to plan for an air exchange in building that would be twice the normal commercial standard. This was 1997 and not in the era of COVID-19. However, I knew then, that you take 200 people and put them in an operations room, in about two weeks everyone has a cold or other upper respiratory infection.  If I had understood my options better, I would have also asked for the best filtration system possible to be added to the HVAC system.


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