The CDC Just Deleted Its Guidance that Said Coronavirus Spreads Through Air

Scientists have been saying it for months. The CDC says they published the new information by accident.
September 21, 2020, 3:18pm
Prentice C. James/CSM via ZUMA Wire (Cal Sport Media via AP Images)
Prentice C. James/CSM via ZUMA Wire (Cal Sport Media via AP Images)

UPDATE 9/21 12:42 pm ET: The CDC has removed language from its website indicating that coronavirus can spread through aerosol particles. The agency said that it mistakenly published the change Monday morning, according to CNBC. The information had been online since Friday.

“A draft version of proposed changes to these recommendations was posted in error to the agency’s official website,” the CDC now says on the page where the new guidance was originally published. “CDC is currently updating its recommendations regarding airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). Once this process has been completed, the update language will be posted.”

This headline has been updated to reflect the new information.

Original story follows:

On the day that the U.S. is set to pass the grim milestone of 200,000 official deaths from coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has finally admitted something scientists have been saying for months — that COVID-19 is spread primarily through the air.

Updated guidance published on the agency’s website now says the virus can typically spread “through respiratory droplets or small particles, such as those in aerosols,” which are produced when a person breathes, and such particles are “inhaled into the nose, mouth, airways, and lungs.”

“This is thought to be the main way the virus spreads,” the website now says, adding ”airborne viruses, including COVID-19, are among the most contagious and easily spread.”

Prior to the update, the CDC insisted that COVID-19 was thought to spread mainly during close physical contact — about 6 feet — and “through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks.”

Now the CDC is warning that evidence indicates that airborne particles can remain suspended in the air and be breathed in by others and travel distances beyond the six feet it had previously recommended people keep apart.

The CDC cites examples such as choir practice, restaurants, and fitness classes as examples of situations where airborne particles are a risk.

"In general, indoor environments without good ventilation increase this risk,” the site says.

The updated description of how the coronavirus is spread also comes with new advice on how to limit that spread.

As well as continuing to promote social distancing, good hand hygiene, and wearing masks, the CDC now advises Americans to stay home and isolate when sick, and “use air purifiers to help reduce airborne germs in indoor spaces.”

Indoor dining is one of the areas of major concern for scientists tracking the spread of coronavirus because of poor airflow, prolonged exposure and the difficulty in maintaining social distancing. Next week New York, one of the few places in the nation to still have a ban on indoor dining, will allow restaurants to reopen with a 25% capacity.

The CDC’s decision comes after more than six months of scientists trying to get the government agency to listen to their concerns about how COVID-19 spreads in the community.

Back in April, a group of scientists wrote to the White House to try and get the Trump administration to focus on the threat from airborne particles.

“While the current [coronavirus] specific research is limited, the results of available studies are consistent with aerosolization of virus from normal breathing,” Dr. Harvey Fineberg, former dean of the Harvard School of Public Health and chair of the NAS' Standing Committee on Emerging Infectious Diseases and 21st Century Health Threats, wrote in the letter.

While the White House’s official line has mirrored the CDC’s position that the virus did not spread mainly through the air, President Donald Trump told Bob Woodward back in February that the coronavirus “goes through air” — at a time when he was publicly downplaying the threat from the virus.

Two weeks ago, a week before the CDC updated its official guidance, Trump dismissed the criticism of his comments.

“This is stuff that everyone knew,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Sept. 10. “There’s a report that I have here someplace where China said it was airborne earlier than the statements I made. People knew it was airborne. This was nothing. When I say it was airborne, everybody knew it was airborne. This was no big thing. Read the reports.”

Cover: Lindsey Tyler, a licensed vocational nurse certified in infection control, prepares to swab a patient amid the COVID-19 novel coronavirus pandemic, 15 July 2020. (Prentice C. James/CSM via ZUMA Wire) (Cal Sport Media via AP Images)