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SARS-CoV-2: Updates on aerosol transmission of the virus

Following an open letter sent by 239 international scientists to the World Health Organization (WHO) on 4 July 2020 proposing the reclassification of SARS-CoV-2 as an airborne virus, the WHO asked to take into account this possible form of transmission and to consider some resulting measures.

The High Council of Public Health (HCSP) in its previous guidelines (8 and 24 April) had not excluded this risk of airborne transmission and had already issued recommendations for prevention in indoor and outdoor settings. The present document completes these recommendations. It does not concern the healthcare settings.

The HCSP reviewed the current state of knowledge on respiratory excretion of the virus as well as available modelling studies and experiments on airborne transmission. The review of the scientific literature that report contamination cases in enclosed public spaces (restaurants, public transports, cruise ships, choir rehearsals, etc.) and professional environments (slaughterhouses, etc.) stresses three conditions favourable to the airborne transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus: ventilation and air flow conditions, atmospheric conditions (low temperature, humidity) and the activities and physical efforts performed in these spaces.

The HCSP recommends that the general population systematically wear preferably a clothe mask, made of reusable fabric (standard: AFNOR S76-001), in all enclosed public and private spaces and during outdoor gatherings with high densities of people in order to limit the emission of respiratory particles. This measure is necessary to protect others from potential contaminations, especially vulnerable people.

The HCSP recalls that other protective barrier measures such as physical distancing, hand hygiene, cleaning and disinfection of surfaces and room ventilation should be applied too.

It also provides recommendations for communication on mask wearing and recalls that research is needed to better understand the role of aerosols in viral transmission.

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