ATLANTA — On Friday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated their guidelines to say that the coronavirus can be spread through tiny respiratory droplets called aerosols that can linger in the indoor air.
“A draft version of proposed changes to these recommendations was posted in error to the agency’s official website,” the CDC said, adding that the organization 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.”
That section of the CDC guidelines has now reverted to what it said before the revisions – that the virus is spread between people who are within 6 feet of each through droplets propelled when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks.
The short-lived revision made Friday suggested 6 feet might not always be enough distance.
“There is growing evidence that droplets and airborne particles can remain suspended in the air and be breathed in by others, and travel distances beyond 6 feet (for example, during choir practice, in restaurants, or in fitness classes),” the CDC’s website had said. “In general, indoor environments without good ventilation increase this risk.”
Medical experts have been arguing for months that the virus can be spread through aerosols, but the CDC and the World Health Organization had resisted that notion. In July, however, the WHO also acknowledged that the virus could linger in the air indoors and potentially infect people who were maintaining 6 feet of social distancing.
Aerosols can be created simply from a person breathing.
Friday's revised guidelines did not suggest any new measures for people to protect themselves against aerosols. The agency maintained that close person-to-person contact is still mainly the way the virus is transmitted.
The CDC recommends that people wash their hands often, stay at least 6 feet away from anyone who is sick or lives outside their households, wear masks in public, cover their coughs and sneezes, and clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces.
Also Friday, the CDC dropped a controversial change to its testing guidelines.
Last month, the agency changed its website to say that people who had close contact with someone who had COVID-19 but who were showing no symptoms themselves “do not necessarily need a test.” After backlash from public health experts who believe extensive testing is necessary to track and control the transmission of the virus, and because the disease is often spread by asymptomatic people, the CDC has now essentially reverted to its previous recommendation.
The CDC now says anyone who has been within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes should get a test.
According to data from Johns Hopkins University as of Monday morning, the United States has had more than 6.8 million coronavirus cases and more than 199,000 deaths.