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World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

The World Health Organization published an update on Thursday that states that airborne transmission of the novel coronavirus is possible, especially in poorly ventilated buildings.

Why it matters: Hundreds of scientists around the world have called on the WHO, which informs public health policy around the world, to acknowledge that particles containing the virus can float indoors and remain infectious, per the New York Times.

Where it stands: Knowledge about the symptoms and modes of transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is expanding. Here's what is known:

  • Airborne: COVID-19 has been known to possibly spread during medical procedures that generate aerosols. But WHO is exploring whether the aerosols may also have been responsible for outbreaks in closed settings "such as restaurants, nightclubs, places of worship or places of work where people may be shouting, talking, or singing.”
  • Droplets: WHO's update still maintains that the coronavirus is mainly transmitted through respiratory droplets directly or from being exposed to infected people via mouth and nose secretions. Some evidence suggests surfaces could indirectly infect others.
  • Asymptomatic spread: WHO confirms infected people can spread the virus when they don’t have symptoms. In June, WHO walked back comments that disregarded asymptomatic transmission, which caused public confusion.

Of note: WHO recently updated their face covering guidance to recommend that healthy people wear a mask in public and indoor settings when social distancing is not possible.

The bottom line: Several of these transmissions could happen at once, making it difficult for scientists to pinpoint the main mode of transmission. For example, people in choir practice, restaurants or fitness classes could be exposed to both aerosol and droplet transmission.

Go deeper

Oct 17, 2020 - Health

Over 1,000 current and ex-CDC officers decry the "politicization" of the agency

President Trump calls on reporters during a news conference with White House coronavirus coordinator Deborah Birx and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

More than 1,000 current and former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention epidemic intelligence officers have signed an open letter, decrying "the ominous politicization" of the agency throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

Why it matters: The CDC is typically at the forefront of the U.S. response to public health crises, but the agency has largely been sidelined during the COVID-19 outbreak, with the White House attempting to control messaging, which, at times, contradicts scientific evidence.

Updated 18 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Health: WHO says Omicron poses "very high" risk — Fauci says Omicron variant will "inevitably" be found in U.S. — U.S. restricts air travel from 8 countries over Omicron concerns.
  2. Politics: Biden says fight against Omicron won't include "shutdowns or lockdowns."
  3. States: New York declares state of emergency amid concerns over Omicron.
  4. World: Omicron adds urgency to vaccinating worldWHO warns against travel bans on southern African countries — First North American Omicron cases identified in Canada.
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.
Oct 16, 2020 - Health

Vaccine timeline "to ensure public trust"

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Pfizer says people might start getting COVID-19 vaccines before the end of the year, according to a timeline it laid out Friday.

The state of play: By the end of October, the company said it hopes to know whether the vaccine is effective, the Wall Street Journal reports.