FALSE: COVID-19 is ‘confirmed’ airborne


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FALSE: COVID-19 is ‘confirmed’ airborne
As of April 13, WHO still says COVID-19 is not airborne. The DOH also says airborne transmission only applies to a ‘confined hospital setting.’

Claim: The novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is “confirmed” to be airborne.

A graphic that became viral on social media said: “COVID-19 is confirmed as airborne and remain 8 hrs in air! So everyone is required to wear mask everywhere!!”

The graphic included a screenshot of a news article from American business news outlet CNBC titled, “WHO considers ‘airborne precautions’ for medical staff after study shows coronavirus can survive in air.”

Several readers sent the graphic to Rappler’s email for verification. Facebook’s monitoring tool, Claim Check, also flagged at least 6 posts containing the graphic as of writing. The earliest was posted on March 26, but it is still being shared as of writing.

Rating: FALSE

The facts: As of April 13, the World Health Organization (WHO) still says that COVID-19 is not airborne and is mainly transmitted through droplets or little bits of liquid. There are studies that suggest airborne transmission is possible, but none of them are conclusive. The Department of Health (DOH) also earlier said that airborne transmission only applies to a “hospital setting.”

Airborne is different from droplet transmission. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and WHO both said that in airborne transmission, the pathogens carrying the disease can remain in the air for long periods of time and can be transmitted to greater distances. Examples are tuberculosis, measles, and chickenpox.

Meanwhile, in droplet transmission, the particles do not have the capacity to stay in the air for long. “The virus that causes COVID-19 is mainly transmitted through droplets generated when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or speaks. These droplets are too heavy to hang in the air. They quickly fall on floors or surfaces,” WHO said in its Frequently Asked Questions page.

The CNBC article included in the graphic also did not say that COVID-19 is airborne. Rather, it said that there is a new study suggesting that the coronavirus can survive in the air in some settings and that WHO is considering “airborne precautions” for medical staff. The article maintained that the virus is mainly passed on through droplets, citing WHO.

“When you do an aerosol-generating procedure like in a medical care facility, you have the possibility to what we call aerosolize these particles, which means they can stay in the air a little bit longer,” CNBC quoted Maria Van Kerkhove, head of WHO’s emerging diseases and zoonosis unit, as saying. Aerosols are tiny particles in the air such as dust, mists, or fumes.

In a briefing on March 18, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire also clarified that people could catch COVID-19 through the air, but only if they are in medical facilities. 

‘Yung airborne po na sinasabi ay (the so-called airborne transmission we’re talking about applies to) a confined hospital setting,” Vergeire said, citing preliminary studies.

WHO explained that airborne transmission may be possible in hospital settings because this is where procedures that generate aerosols are conducted – such as endotracheal intubation, bronchoscopy, open suctioning, tracheostomy, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, etc. Still, WHO says more study is needed to confirm if COVID-19 is airborne.

Both WHO and the DOH say wearing masks alone is not enough protection against the coronavirus. “In all settings, masks should be used in combination with frequent hand hygiene with alcohol-based hand rubs or soap/water,” the DOH said.

In late January, WHO said the use of masks in public places is not required because there is no sufficient evidence that it can help prevent infection. But it shifted its position, saying on April 3 that the use of cloth masks at the community-level may help reduce the spread of the disease. Both WHO and DOH said health workers should be given priority access to medical masks. 

While there is still no conclusive study about the disease being airborne, health experts recommend avoiding busy public indoor spaces to reduce the risk of infection. – Pauline Macaraeg/Rappler.com

Keep us aware of suspicious Facebook pages, groups, accounts, websites, articles, or photos in your network by contacting us at factcheck@rappler.com. Let us battle disinformation one Fact Check at a time.

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