White House likely to urge face covers to combat aerosol spread
The White House is likely to recommend that people living in areas hardest hit by the coronavirus cover their faces in public, as new research shows that the pathogen can hang in the air after people sneeze, cough or even talk.
The administration won’t urge Americans to buy commercial medical-grade masks, which are in short supply at hospitals. The recommendation would apply to areas with high levels of community transmission of the virus, the person said.
Public-health authorities and researchers have been racing to understand how the coronavirus spreads. A growing body of research suggests that small, virus-laden droplets of spit or mucus from a cough, sneeze or even talking could linger in the air, creating a source of infection that circumvents hand-washing and surface cleaning.
The government would ask people to cover their faces for essential activities such as going to the grocery store, while continuing to recommend that Americans stay home from work and school as much as possible and avoid gathering in groups.
The person asked not to be identified because a final decision on the guidance hasn’t been made. It’s not expected on Thursday, but soon, the person said.
The recommendation may have been influenced by a quickly assembled report from the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.
The April 1 report, which was requested by the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, concludes that the virus can be spread through the air, even during regular conversation, at far higher levels than first thought.
Scientists originally believed that the risk of infections came mainly from droplets produced when an infected person coughed or sneezed. Recent research suggests that the virus may also be aerosolized when a patient exhales.
A recent study from the University of Nebraska found the virus’s genetic signature scattered throughout the rooms and in the air surrounding Covid-19 patients, extending even out into the hallways of the hospital where they were receiving care. Work is still underway to determine if the particles were capable of infecting people.