Coronavirus disease appears to be airborne, but only in hospital setting

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 18) — People could catch the coronavirus disease through the air, but only if they are in medical facilities, the Department of Health said Wednesday, citing the result of a preliminary research on the virus.

“Yung airborne po na sinasabi ay [the airborne transmission we are talking of applies to] a confined hospital setting,” DOH spokesperson Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a briefing Wednesday.

Vergeire was reacting to an article quoting a World Health Organization official as saying that medical staff should consider “airborne precautions” after a new study published in preprint database medRxiv showed the novel coronavirus or severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, which causes COVID-19, could survive in the air as aerosols or fine particles for up to three hours.

Study authors from the Princeton University, University of California, Los Angeles and health officials from the United States have also found that the virus is detectable on copper for up to four hours, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel.

However, the scientists said the results are preliminary, as they have not been evaluated. This means the findings “should not be used to guide clinical practice.”

Vergiere also stressed that the consensus now is people could acquire the respiratory infection, which mostly affects older people and individuals who have preexisting medical conditions, through droplets from the nose or mouth when people infected with COVID-19 cough or sneeze.

WHO said these droplets land on objects and surfaces. People then contract COVID-19 by touching these objects or surfaces, then touching their eyes, nose or mouth or breathing in these secretions.

This is why WHO underscores the importance of keeping a distance of one meter or three feet from a sick person.