The WHO investigates different modes of transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, including airborne and aerosol circulation. They will be traveling to China this weekend to study animal to human transmission and the contended origins of this virus.
The COVID-19 pandemic is an "enemy against humanity." There are now 11.4 million cases of COVID-19, and more than 535,000 people have lost their lives.
Worst of all, the outbreak is still accelerating: According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it took 12 weeks for the world to reach 400,000 cases of COVID. Over the weekend, there were already a lot more than 400,000 cases across the globe. In the United States, many Americans congregated and celebrated the 4th of July weekend.
"It's a dangerous virus. None like this has been seen since 1918," said WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Abhanom Ghebreyesus, referring to the 1918 Spanish Flu that infected about 500 million people worldwide. That was about a third of the world's population, and an estimated 20 million people died.
While the number of COVID cases appears to have leveled off globally, that is not the case. While some countries have made significant progress in reducing deaths, deaths are still on the rise in other countries. Those who are living in long term care facilities continue to be extra vulnerable.
There has been a lot of discussion about COVID-19's origins. This weekend, the WHO will be traveling to China to prepare scientific plans with their Chinese counterparts on a WHO-led international mission.
"The mission objective is to advance the understanding of animal hosts for COVID-19 and ascertain how the disease jumps from animals to humans," said Dr. Tedros Abhanom. Additionally, they will be researching to identify the zoonotic sources of this disease.
By understanding how the disease is transmitted from animal hosts to humans, this study could reveal unknown knowledge about the coronavirus' nature.
Most communication, work, and entertainment have become online during the pandemic, and the WHO is taking advantage of this new technological era. "This pandemic has shown the importance of being able to see each other online while being physically apart," reported Dr. Tedros Abhanom.
The WHO has partnered with Facebook to spread correct and reliable information about the coronavirus, and expand their reach of the audience. Through this collaboration, the WHO will provide COVID-19 details for free in a mobile-friendly format, without any data charges in more than 50 countries and various languages.
Dr. Tedros also thanked Google for its continued support and dedication. Google's support has enabled the WHO to "give people better access to life-saving information when they need it most, wherever they are in the world."
Out of essential information that the WHO shares regarding COVID, one is particularly significant: The SARS-CoV-2 virus may be airborne.
The coronavirus is a respiratory pathogen. Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, Technical Lead of the COVID-19 response, said, "We have been talking about the possibility of airborne transmission and aerosol transmission, as one of the modes of transmission of COVID-19."
When someone infected with the coronavirus sneezes or breathes out, the saliva and mucous droplets that contain virtual particles fall to the ground as a result of gravity. These droplets are usually more than 20 micrometers and are heavier than air. If another person is on the other end of the sneeze, they could be hit with an influx of these short-ranged droplets. This unfortunate scenario is what people refer to as airborne transmission or droplet transmission.
Aerosol transmission is a more subtle, but a potent and possible mode of transmission. An aerosol is a suspension of particles or droplets in the air, such as dust or mist. When smaller droplets evaporate much faster than the rate at which they fall to the ground, virus particles from these invisible, evaporated droplets float back into the air. They can stay in the air for up to half an hour and travel longer distances, supported by a gust of wind. Therefore, if a person walks into office space after someone with coronavirus has sneezed, it could be infected through aerosol transmission.
Although the WHO has been reluctant to say whether the COVID-19 is airborne, they acknowledged that there was "evidence emerging" of the coronavirus's airborne nature.
Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist of the WHO: The possibility of airborne transmission in public settings, especially in very specific conditions —crowded, closed, poorly ventilated settings that have been described— cannot be ruled out. However, the evidence needs to be gathered and interpreted.
The WHO advised that N-95 respirator masks are the most foolproof barrier against airborne and aerosol transmission. They further recommended that people ventilate indoor spaces. However, scientists continue to advocate that WHO guidelines are updated to accommodate that the virus can be airborne and aerosolized. They insist that the public must be aware of this likely possibility.
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