CDC confirms COVID-19 can be transmitted through air from more than 6 feet away

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated its public guidance on how the novel coronavirus spreads, confirming and further explaining that transmission of the virus can occur through exposure to respiratory fluids from more than 6 feet away.

In bold lettering, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wrote in an update published Friday that exposure occurs in three principal ways, including "inhalation of very fine respiratory droplets and aerosol particles."

"People release respiratory fluids during exhalation (e.g., quiet breathing, speaking, singing, exercise, coughing, sneezing) in the form of droplets across a spectrum of sizes. These droplets carry virus and transmit infection," the CDC wrote.

The agency noted that increasing distance from a source doesn’t necessarily mean that a person cannot be infected through inhalation of aerosol virus particles.

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"Although infections through inhalation at distances greater than six feet from an infectious source are less likely than at closer distances, the phenomenon has been repeatedly documented under certain preventable circumstances," the CDC wrote. 

"These transmission events have involved the presence of an infectious person exhaling virus indoors for an extended time (more than 15 minutes and in some cases hours) leading to virus concentrations in the air space sufficient to transmit infections to people more than 6 feet away, and in some cases to people who have passed through that space soon after the infectious person left."

"Although the way we now describe how transmission occurs has shifted, the ways to prevent infection with this virus have not.  All prevention measures that CDC recommends remain effective for these forms of transmission," a CDC spokesperson, Jade Fulce, said to FOX Television Stations. 

"For over a decade, CDC has recognized near-range inhalational transmission in its infection control guidance: Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), pandemic influenza, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), and COVID-19 and has recognized near-range inhalation transmission as the primary route of transmission for SARS CoV-2 (the virus that causes the illness COVID-19) since the beginning of the pandemic," Fulce continued. "This is why CDC has continued to recommend from the beginning that healthcare personnel use N95 or higher-level respirators caring for people known or suspected to be infected with SARS CoV-2."

This new language is similar to what was acknowledged by the agency in September 2020, when the CDC said it mistakenly posted guidance saying the novel coronavirus could be transmitted by tiny particles that linger in the air. The agency pulled the updated information from its website.

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"A draft version of proposed changes to these recommendations was posted in error to the agency’s official website," the CDC said in an email in September. "CDC is currently updating its recommendations regarding airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19)."

In October, the CDC updated its guidance on COVID-19 transmission to include more information on how the disease spreads through the air via tiny respiratory droplets, but maintained that the virus was mainly transmitted through close contact from one person to another. 

The new guidance comes amid substantial scientific evidence suggesting that tiny virus particles can linger in the air and infect people as they inhale. 

In July, more than 200 scientists from a variety of fields contributed to an open letter calling on the World Health Organization to acknowledge that the coronavirus can spread through the air and urged the global body to update its official guidance on the subject.

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The scientists wrote that studies have shown "beyond any reasonable doubt that viruses are released during exhalation, talking and coughing in micro-droplets small enough to remain aloft in the air."

More than 32.6 million people have contracted COVID-19 in the United States, and more than 580,000 have died, according to data compiled May 7 by Johns Hopkins University.