Review: NASEM rapid expert consultation on the possibility of bioaerosol spread of SARS-CoV-2 for the COVID-19 pandemic (April 1, 2020)
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) Standing Committee on Emerging Infectious Diseases and 21st Century Health Threats released an expert consultation that notes that while specific research on COVID-19 is limited, results of available studies support the possibility that viral particles can be spread via bioaerosols generated directly by exhalation of patients with COVID-19.
The Standing Committee responds to a question about whether COVID-19 could be spread via conversation. The consultation summarizes several studies done on patients with COVID-19 and other coronaviruses.
In one study, University of Nebraska researchers collected air and surface samples from 11 isolation rooms where 13 people who tested positive for COVID-19 were staying. Their results suggested identification of genetic material from the virus that causes COVID-19 in air samples found in this study provides limited evidence that some potential for airborne transmission exists. The researchers note however that this does not confirm that this virus spreads in an airborne fashion and they are doing further research to determine if live culturable virus was captured in this study.
Another study referenced that indicated that surgical face masks could prevent transmission of human coronaviruses and influenza viruses from symptomatic individuals is based on a study patients with SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV not SARS-CoV2 (COVID-19).
The expert consultation notes that although the studies with SARS-CoV2 are limited, the existing studies are consistent with evidence of aerosolization of virus with normal breathing. This does not prove this method of transmission, but it does not rule it out.
About the Author: Seema Mohapatra
Seema Mohapatra is an Associate Professor of Law and Dean's Fellow
at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, She teaches Introduction to Health Care Law and Policy, Genetics and the Law, Torts, and Bioethics and the Law. Seema Mohapatra is an expert in the areas of health care law, public health law, bioethics, torts, and international health and family law. Her research interests include the intersection of biosciences and the law, assisted reproduction and surrogacy, international family and health law, health care disparities in the United States, and informed consent. Her work has been published in several journals, including the Wake Forest Law Review, Colorado Law Review, Brooklyn Law Review, and the Harvard Journal of Law & Policy. Professor Mohapatra currently teaches Torts, Introduction to Health Care Law, Bioethics, and Genetics and the Law. She has authored articles and book chapters on topics such as insurance coverage of infertility and assisted reproduction, genetics and health privacy, international surrogacy laws, and equity in healthcare coverage. Professor Mohapatra regularly presents her research nationally and internationally at legal and medical conferences and symposia. Prior to teaching, Professor Mohapatra practiced health law in Chicago at Sidley & Austin and Foley & Lardner. She earned a J.D. degree from Northwestern University School of Law and has a master’s degree in Public Health with a concentration in Chronic Disease Epidemiology from Yale University. She earned a bachelor of arts in Natural Sciences (with a minor in Women's Studies) from Johns Hopkins University.