Story at a glance

  • CNN reports the chair of the National Academy of Sciences’ Standing Committee on Emerging Infectious Diseases and 21st Century Health Threats wrote a letter to the White House on the issue.
  • The letter was in response to an inquiry by the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the virus spreads from person to person through coughs or sneezes within about 6 feet.

Health experts told the White House Wednesday the coronavirus may be able to spread through aerosolized droplets produced by talking or breathing, according to CNN.

CNN reports Dr. Harvey Fineberg, chairman of the National Academy of Sciences’ Standing Committee on Emerging Infectious Diseases and 21st Century Health Threats, sent a letter to the White House Wednesday in response to an inquiry concerning the possibility the coronavirus could be spread by talking. 

“While the current [coronavirus] specific research is limited, the results of available studies are consistent with aerosolization of virus from normal breathing,” Fineberg wrote. 

“This letter responds to your question concerning the possibility that [coronavirus] could be spread by conversation, in addition to sneeze/cough - induced droplets,” Fineberg wrote. “Currently available research supports the possibility that [coronavirus] could be spread via bioaerosols generated directly by patient exhalation.”


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Fineberg explains in the letter that research from China shows the virus can be suspended in the air when health care workers remove protective gear, or when staff moves around or floors are cleaned. Fineberg said aerosolized coronavirus droplets can hang in the air and possibly infect someone who walks by at a later time, but how long the virus stays in the air depends on several factors. 

“If you generate an aerosol of the virus with no circulation in a room, it’s conceivable that if you walk through later, you could inhale the virus,” Fineberg told CNN. “But if you’re outside, the breeze will likely disperse it. 


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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines for social distancing recommend that you stay at least 6 feet apart from others if you are contagious or concerned about being exposed to a contagious person. 

The virus spreads from person to person through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. 

Fineberg told CNN he’ll start wearing a mask when he visits the grocery store.

“I’m not going to wear a surgical mask, because clinicians need those,” Fineberg told CNN. “But I have a nice western-style bandana I might wear. Or I have a balaclava. I have some pretty nice options.” 

His comment comes as top health officials consider recommending the broad use of masks in the U.S.


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Published on Apr 02, 2020