PORTLAND, Ore — As restrictions are slowly lifted and more and more people head to indoor spaces like restaurants, bars or classrooms, scientists around the world have a warning: there's another way to get COVID-19 that health authorities have been ignoring.
"From the beginning of the pandemic, in the United States, there were six to eight of us trying to get the message out that this looks airborne to us," said Dr. Richard Corsi.
Corsi is an internationally recognized expert on indoor air quality and dean of the Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science at Portland State University.
He's also one of more than 200 scientists from 32 countries who signed an open letter to the World Health Organization (WHO), accusing the agency of neglecting one very important way COVID-19 can infect people: by becoming airborne.
"It's not just close contact and it's not just contaminated surfaces," Corsi explained. "It's also what I call 'far field' contact, which is if you're not standing 3 or 6 feet from a person but you happen to be in the same crowded restaurant or the same crowded bar or a classroom and you're not near the infector ... you can inhale aerosols, droplet nuclei that contain infectious viruses in them."
That's because when someone who is infected coughs or even simply talks, tiny respiratory droplets are emitted into the air. If the space is not well-ventilated those particles can build.
"The levels just keep accumulating and accumulating and accumulating to higher and higher levels in that indoor space," Corsi said.
The scientists are calling for WHO to revise its recommendations and warn that these aerosols can potentially infect people so they can take the necessary steps to protect themselves and others.
"We need to ventilate more, we need to use better filtration systems, we need to use ultraviolet radiation in some cases, we should be using portable air purifiers in some cases," Corsi said.
Corsi also says we should all be wearing face coverings, and establishments should be limiting the number of people allowed inside at any given time.
And last, but not least, we need to acknowledge this virus' airborne route.
"Until people understand that, we are not going to be doing the things we need to do to really quash COVID-19," Corsi said. "And get to a place where we want to be."