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CDC Says Once Again Breathing Can Spread COVID

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This story was updated Oct. 5 at 3:04 p.m.

September 22, 2020 -- The CDC has once again said that yes, COVID can spread when people simply breathe in virus particles that are suspended in the air. 

The agency had added that wording to its guidance on transmission in September, then took it down. At the time, the agency said the revisions were a draft and would be reposted once complete.

The revised guidelines posted Oct. 5 says that COVID can be spread by “droplets and particles that can linger in the air for minutes to hours.” The droplets can infect people further than 6 feet away from the person or after the person has left the area.

It also said it’s possible for the virus to spread more than 6 feet in enclosed spaces with bad ventilation. Activities that can cause heavy breathing, such as singing and exercising, are linked to the spread.

Having close contact with someone who is infected is a much more common way to get infected, the agency said.

The guidance acknowledging aerosol spread was itself a change in the agency's position. It’s accepted research now that coronavirus can spread through droplets expelled from people standing less than 6 feet apart. However, newer research has shown the virus may also continue to exist in smaller aerosol droplets and spread to people further apart.

Previously, the agency said the virus most often spreads during close person-to-person contact “through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks.” That guidance remains, and the CDC says that is still thought to be the main way the virus spreads.

Scientists have been advocating the change in guidance for months. CNN reported that a scientific panel told the White House in April that the virus could be spread by talking or just breathing.

People can still get coronavirus by touching an object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or eyes, the CDC says, though this is not the main way the virus spreads.

To avoid getting the virus, the CDC still advises social distancing, wearing facial coverings, regular hand washing, staying home, air purifiers in indoor spaces, and disinfecting surfaces.

WebMD Health News Brief Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on September 22, 2020

Sources

CDC. "Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)"

CDC. “How COVID-19 Spreads”

CNN. "Updated CDC guidance acknowledges coronavirus can spread through the air"

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