Studies leave question of ‘airborne’ coronavirus transmission unanswered (WaPo)

Research from China detects virus traces in the air, but it is unclear whether such aerosols are infectious or a significant part of the pandemic.

A growing number of studies, including one published this week in the journal Nature, have found evidence that the coronavirus can remain suspended in the air in aerosol particles. That raises anew the question of whether and to what extent the virus can be transmitted as an aerosol — although the evidence is far from conclusive and no such infections have been documented.

The consensus so far is that the virus, although very contagious, spreads through respiratory droplets generated when people breathe, speak or cough and doesn’t infect people through particles that can linger in the air for hours, in the way that measles and some other viral diseases can.

But the research is fueling a scientific debate over one of the most basic questions about the novel coronavirus — how it spreads — and doing so at a time of high anxiety and rattled nerves. Outbreaks linked to crowded indoor environments such as prisons, meatpacking plants, a cramped call center and a restaurant may serve as warnings about the perils of reopening.

The scientific literature is full of alarming questions: Could ventilation systems spread the virus? Could removing clothing shake virus particles back into the air?

Research has shown that the virus typically is transmitted from person to person through relatively large respiratory droplets that travel only a few feet before falling to the floor or ground. People can also become infected by touching contaminated objects — known among scientists as fomites — and then, for example, touching their face…

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