On Monday afternoon, the CDC updated its website with the latest guidance about how the coronavirus spreads between people.
The agency stressed the virus “spreads easily between people,” especially those who get close to others, when they’re coughing, sneezing, talking, or just breathing.
“There is evidence that under certain conditions, people with COVID-19 seem to have infected others who were more than 6 feet away,” the agency said in its new guidance. “These transmissions occurred within enclosed spaces that had inadequate ventilation.”
Experts have been stressing for months that the coronavirus can travel through the air well in stuffy, enclosed spaces where people gather. The World Health Organization changed its guidance to acknowledge this in July.
Six feet of space is not always enough to protect you from catching someone else’s coronavirus.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance on its website Monday, acknowledging what virus experts and environmental engineers have been stressing for months: it’s easy to catch the coronavirus, and develop COVID-19, the disease it causes, from other people. This can even happen when you’re six feet apart, or more.
This is especially true when you’re together in a closed space, with poor air circulation, where the virus may act differently.
The coronavirus ‘spreads very easily from person to person,’ the CDC says, in its new guidance
“People who are physically near (within 6 feet) a person with COVID-19, or have direct contact with that person are at greatest risk of infection,” the CDC said in its new guidance, posted Monday afternoon.
Some of the easiest ways to get COVID-19 from someone else, the agency stressed, are:
- Being around someone who “with COVID-19” who might “cough, sneeze, sing, talk, or breathe.”
- Inhaling someone else’s virus through your nose and/or mouth.
- Having “close contact” with a person who is sick with the virus (as you might if you live or work with them).
In an emailed statement released along with its new guidance, the agency said its recommendations for coronavirus precautions “remain the same.”
“CDC continues to believe, based on current science, that people are more likely to become infected the longer and closer they are to a person with COVID-19,” the statement said. “People can protect themselves from the virus that causes COVID-19 by staying at least 6 feet away from others, wearing a mask that covers their nose and mouth, washing their hands frequently, cleaning touched surfaces often, and staying home when sick.”
Why 6 feet isn’t always sufficient: The virus thrives in stuffy spaces
The agency also acknowledged, for the first time, that it’s possible to catch the coronavirus from another person, even if you’re further than six feet away from them — something the agency backtracked on last month.
“There is evidence that under certain conditions, people with COVID-19 seem to have infected others who were more than 6 feet away,” the agency said. “These transmissions occurred within enclosed spaces that had inadequate ventilation. Sometimes the infected person was breathing heavily, for example while singing or exercising.”
This acknowledgement by the CDC that the virus can be airborne — floating in smaller particles, rather than dropping to the ground — is something many other public health experts have voiced concern about in recent months.
It came after the CDC, once considered the world’s finest public health response team, spent weeks revising a draft form of the same guidance, that the agency said was “posted in error” and ripped from its website last month.
Heavy breathing, shouting, and singing, without proper ventilation, are all thought to contribute to a “buildup” of virus-carrying particles, the CDC said, and these can more easily infect others nearby.
“The take-home is that it’s traveling through the air, and there is no bright line,” University of Maryland virologist Don Milton (who is not affiliated with the CDC) said during a press call shortly after the CDC updated its guidance Monday.
“You’re not safe beyond six feet. You can’t take your mask off at six feet.”
The World Health Organization also acknowledged this kind of spread may be possible in July, but stressed then that it is likely limited to “crowded and inadequately ventilated spaces where infected persons spend long periods of time with others.”
Surfaces, on the other hand, are ‘not thought to be a common way that COVID-19 spreads,’ the agency said
Getting the virus from objects and surfaces is far less likely than transmission among people, the agency said, adding “it is possible that a person could get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or eyes.”
But, “touching surfaces is not thought to be a common way that COVID-19 spreads,” the CDC added.
Here are the most important bullet points to understand about how COVID-19 spreads best, according to the CDC: