The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now states explicitly — in large, bold lettering — that airborne virus can be inhaled even when one is more than six feet away from an infected individual. The new language, posted online, is a change from the agency’s previous position that most infections were acquired through “close contact, not airborne transmission.”
The new focus underscores the need for the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue standards for employers to address potential hazards in the workplace, some experts said.
“They hadn’t talked much about aerosols and were more focused on droplets,” said David Michaels, an epidemiologist at George Washington School of Public Health and head of OSHA in the Obama administration.
The new information has significant implications for indoor environments, and workplaces in particular, Dr. Michaels said. Virus-laden particles “maintain their airborne properties for hours, and they accumulate in a room that doesn’t have good ventilation.”
“There’s more exposure closer up,” Dr. Michaels said. “But when you’re further away, there’s still a risk, and also these particles stay in the air.”
Donald Milton, an aerosol scientist at the University of Maryland, said “a surgical mask, even if it’s tucked in on the edges, is still not really going to give you enough protection if you’re in a meatpacking plant elbow to elbow all day long with other people.”
Linsey Marr, an aerosol expert at Virginia Tech, pointed out “if you’re in a poorly ventilated environment, virus is going to build up in the air, and everyone who’s in that room is going to be exposed.”