Story at a glance

  • The CDC changed its guidance regarding coronavirus transmission on Friday to include the potential of airborne transmission.
  • On Monday, the CDC removed the language and said it had been posted in error.
  • The reversal is one of several recent missteps and miscommunications from the nation’s leading public health agency.

Just days after recognizing the possibility of airborne transmission of COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) removed the new guidelines from their website on Monday, saying a draft version of proposed changes were posted by error.

The original change was made on Friday, but went largely unnoticed until a CNN report on Sunday. The next day, the CDC removed the language acknowledging the possibility that COVID-19 may spread through droplets and airborne particles that can remain in the air and travel distances beyond 6 feet, which is the currently recommended measure of physical distancing. The website now only lists person-to-person spread. 


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“A draft version of proposed changes to these recommendations was posted in error to the agency’s official website,” a CDC spokesman said in an email to the Wall Street Journal, adding that the agency is still working on recommendations regarding airborne transmission. “Once this process has been completed, the update language will be posted.”

The revision follows another reversal of controversial guidelines about testing people who were exposed to coronavirus. That change was made directly by the Department of Health and Human Services on the CDC website, going against the agency's scientific review process and objections by scientists, according to unnamed sources and internal documents obtained by The New York Times.

In this case, Jay Butler, the CDC’s deputy director for infectious disease, told the Washington Post. "It was a failure of process at CDC.”


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The response from scientists and other health professionals was swift, and critical. 

 

Some in the scientific community had been pushing for public health agencies to recognize the potential of airborne transmission in order to better advise the public. If preliminary research showing the presence of the virus in aerosol particles proves true, current preventative measures such as social distancing may prove ineffective.  


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Published on Sep 21, 2020