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San Diego Scientists Among Group Calling On CDC To Tighten COVID-19 Guidance

Chris Van Gorder, Scripps Health CEO, inoculated Christian Dollahon, 66 from ...

Credit: Associated Press

Above: Chris Van Gorder, Scripps Health CEO, inoculated Christian Dollahon, 66 from Oceanside with the Pfizer vaccine at the Del Mar Fairgrounds on Friday, Feb. 12, 2021, in Del Mar, Calf.

Some prominent researchers, including two from San Diego, are calling on federal officials to do a better job at explaining how COVID-19 spreads.

UC San Diego Atmospheric Chemist Kim Prather, and Infectious Disease Specialist Robert Schooley, are among those calling on the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to change its guidance on safety and the COVID-19 virus.

Listen to this story by Erik Anderson.

They worry that tiny airborne particles known as aerosols are responsible for the majority of COVID-19 infections.

“Indoors, aerosols are like being in the room with a smoker,” Prather said. “There’s no other way to describe it. They float out. They are produced simply by speaking. Not by coughs or sneezes. They just come out of people when they’re talking.”

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Tiny aerosols can fill the air in a poorly ventilated room, allowing for transmission of the disease even after an infected person leaves the space, according to Prather.

Prather joined researchers from across the country asking President Biden, the CDC and Dr. Anthony Fauci to take immediate action to address the risk of transmission through inhalation.

“CDC guidance and recommendations do not include the control measures necessary for protecting the public and workers from inhalation exposure to SARS-CoV-2,” wrote the letter’s authors. “The failure to address inhalation exposure to SARS-CoV-2 continues to put workers and the public at serious risk of infection. People of color, many of whom work on the front lines in essential jobs, have suffered — and continue to suffer — the greatest impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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The concerned scientists say the emergence of even more transmissible virus variants, should make quick action a priority.

“I honestly believe that one, and this is the whole point of the letter, that once we acknowledge it's in the air, that’s the main way it's getting to us,” Prather said. “Then we can implement all that measure that we need to make to put in the proper infrastructure. We can tell people how to make sure their air is clean.”

The letter included four specific recommendations:

• CDC must make clear to the public that inhalation exposure through small aerosols is a principal way the virus spreads and update its policy and guidelines to address small particle inhalation in public and workplace settings, and must develop guidelines for better quality face coverings for the public.

• CDC and OSHA must issue recommendations and requirements for the use of NIOSH-approved respirators — like N95 filtering facepiece respirators — for all health care workers and other workers at high risk, including those in meat and poultry, corrections and transit operations. A year into this pandemic we must provide appropriate respiratory protection to all workers who need it.

• OSHA must issue an emergency workplace standard on COVID-19 that requires an assessment of inhalation risk, adoption of controls including enhanced ventilation, physical distancing, effective respiratory protection for workers in high-risk jobs, and high-quality barrier face coverings and masks for other workers exposed to the virus on the job.

• The federal government must use the Defense Production Act to ramp up the production of respirators and high-quality barrier face coverings.

Adequate masks, better ventilation, and indoor HEPA filters can go a long way toward lowering the risk inside.

Don Milton, environmental health researcher at the University of Maryland, is among the academics and doctors asking the CDC to acknowledge the airborne risk.

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“The country’s moving forward to tackle this pandemic,” said Milton. “Ramping up vaccines, expanding the use of masks addressing the disparate impact of the virus on people of color. But to be really successful we must finally recognize inhalation exposure.”

The American Industrial Hygiene Association is among several organizations asking for changes to protect people in their workplaces.

The letter was signed by the following:

• Rick Bright, PhD, former director of BARDA, Department of Health and Human Services;

• Lisa M. Brosseau, ScD, CIH, professor (retired), research consultant, Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), University of Minnesota;

• Lynn R. Goldman, MD, MS, MPH, Michael and Lori Milken Dean and Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health, Milken Institute School of Public Health, George Washington University;

• Céline Gounder, MD, ScM, clinical assistant professor, Department of Medicine, NYU Grossman School of Medicine & Bellevue Hospital Center;

• Jose-Luis Jimenez, PhD, University of Colorado at Boulder;

• Yoshihiro Kawaoka, DVM, PhD, professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine and University of Tokyo;

• Linsey Marr, PhD, Charles P. Lunsford Professor, Department of Civil Engineering, Virginia Tech;

• David Michaels, PhD, MPH, professor, Environmental and Occupational Health, Milken Institute School of Public Health, George Washington University;

• Donald K. Milton, MD, DrPH, Professor of Environmental Health, School of Public Health and Professor, Internal Medicine, University of Maryland School of Medicine, University of Maryland;

• Michael Osterholm, PhD, MPH, Regents Professor, McKnight Presidential Endowed Chair in Public Health and Director, Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), University of Minnesota;

• Kimberly Prather, PhD, Distinguished Chair in Atmospheric Chemistry and Director, NSF Center for Aerosol Impacts on Chemistry of the Environment (CAICE), Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego;

• Robert T. Schooley, MD, professor of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases and Global Public Health and Co-Director, Center for Innovative Phage Applications and Therapeutics, University of California, San Diego;

• Peg Seminario, MS, Safety and Health Director (retired), AFL-CIO


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Erik Anderson
Environment Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI focus on the environment and all the implications that a changing or challenging environment has for life in Southern California. That includes climate change, endangered species, habitat, urbanization, pollution and many other topics.

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