Over the past few months, experts have consistently emphasized that there is a lot we don’t know about the novel coronavirus responsible for COVID-19. But one thing is becoming increasingly clear: It’s highly infectious.
In fact, it may be “three times as infectious as flu,” according to Robert Redfield, M.D., director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who spoke on transmission of the virus with NPR.
Now, a new report from the CDC offers new clues on just how easily it may be spreading from person to person. The report zeroed in on novel coronavirus transmission between January 23 and March 16 in Singapore specifically, looking at seven different clusters where presymptomatic transmission happened. (Presymptomatic transmission means that people were infected by others who had the virus, but didn’t have symptoms yet.)
The report concluded that presymptomatic people are spreading COVID-19—and 6.4% of new local cases resulted from the seven clusters, increasing the challenge of containing the virus.
These findings contribute to a growing pile of evidence from several other studies with similar findings around the world. “One of the [pieces of] information that we have pretty much confirmed now is that a significant number of individuals that are infected actually remain asymptomatic. That may be as many as 25%,” Dr. Redfield told NPR.
Generally, the CDC has explained that the novel coronavirus virus spreads via respiratory droplets, which are projected into the air after a person coughs or sneezes. Being in close contact with someone (within 6 feet) or touching a contaminated surface and then touching your nose, mouth, or eyes can also lead to infection.
However, other modes of transmission may be responsible for the spread of novel coronavirus, including talking, singing, and maybe even breathing.
The CDC report states that “presymptomatic transmission might occur through generation of respiratory droplets or possibly through indirect transmission. Speech and other vocal activities such as singing have been shown to generate air particles, with the rate of emission corresponding to voice loudness.”
Translation: COVID-19 might spread by people who have no apparent symptoms through something as simple as talking and singing. And, apparently, loud talkers will spread the virus even more.
This is definitely information worth remembering, says William Schaffner, M.D., an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “It reinforces the notion that feeling healthy doesn’t mean you’re not infected, and that you don’t know that the person with whom you’re speaking or singing with could also be infected,” he says.
Not covered in the CDC report, but equally worth noting: A scientific panel told White House officials on Wednesday that the virus may even spread through breathing. “While the current [coronavirus] specific research is limited, the results of available studies are consistent with aerosolization of virus from normal breathing,” according to a letter obtained by CNN that was written by Harvey Fineberg, Ph.D., M.D., chairman of a committee with the National Academy of Sciences.
Dr. Schaffner agrees that this is definitely possible, but it’s hard to say how much these modes of transmission—simply talking and breathing–lead to new infections compared to the other proven ways of spreading the virus. However, he adds that the importance of asymptomatic transmission is more significant than what scientists previously understood.
So, how can you protect yourself right now?
The CDC now says that people should wear cloth face coverings in public as a “voluntary public health measure” to help slow the spread of COVID-19. These homemade masks should fit snugly, be secured with ties or ear loops, include multiple layers of fabric, allow for breathing without restriction, and be washed frequently.
The argument: “Is the mask something that protects me or … if I wear a mask, is it something that protects others from me?” Dr. Redfield explained to NPR. This means that if you cough or sneeze (or speak loudly!), your face covering can catch respiratory droplets so they don’t land on other people or surfaces. It won’t necessarily protect you, but it will protect those around you. If everyone does it, then we protect each other—“even though the protection may be modest,” Dr. Schaffner says.
However, the CDC says people still should not buy medical face masks (even if you can find them) because they’re desperately needed by healthcare workers who lack personal protective equipment on the front lines.
Plus, a face mask does not replace other preventive measures and you should do everything you can to follow other protective guidelines:
From: Prevention US
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