In a Breakthrough, Researchers Isolate Infectious Virus in Air

Expert calls the discovery 'a smoking gun' on how the disease is spread
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 12, 2020 2:10 PM CDT
In a Breakthrough, Researchers Isolate Infectious Virus in Air
Medical personnel watch over COVID-19 patients at DHR Health last month in McAllen, Texas.   (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Scientific support for the widely debated theory that the coronavirus spreads through the air has emerged. University of Florida researchers said they've shown that there's live virus in floating respiratory droplets, the New York Times reports. "This is what people have been clamoring for," said Linsey Marr, a Virginia Tech expert who was not involved in the work. "It's unambiguous evidence that there is infectious virus in aerosols." The researchers reported isolating live virus from aerosols they collected 7 to 16 feet from hospitalized patients. Other teams had run into obstacles. The Florida researchers came up with a sampler that uses pure water vapor to enlarge the aerosols for collection from the air. The pathogen was preserved by putting the aerosols in a liquid heavy on salts, sugar, and protein. "I'm impressed," an Australian researcher said. "It's a very clever measurement technique."

The findings, which have not undergone peer review yet, could mean that 6 feet of social distance isn't enough. That guideline is misleading, another expert said, "because people think they are protected indoors, and they’re really not." Even in stagnant air, she said, small aerosols can cross a room in about 5 minutes. And they can remain afloat in the air for hours, Marr said. Some scientists cautioned that it's not known whether the virus researchers recovered was enough to cause infections. But Marr is among those who said the issue is settled. "If this isn't a smoking gun, then I don’t know what is," she tweeted. The findings could make clear what work needs to be done next. "Once we acknowledge that virus is transmitting through aerosols," Marr said, per CBS, "we can then take steps to address that and to reduce that risk." (More coronavirus stories.)

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