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Why Did CDC Suddenly Change its Story on COVID-19 Transmission?

Tuesday, September 22, 2020
Press Contacts: 

Roger Kerson, Roger@nationalcosh.org, 734.645.0535

Why Did CDC Suddenly Change its Story on COVID-19 Transmission?

Workplace Safety Experts Say Withdrawal of Science-Based Statement
on Aerosol Transmission is Irresponsible and Increases Health Risks

LOS ANGELES  – The sudden decision by the U.S. Centers for Disease to withdraw new, science-based guidance stating that COVID-19 can spread through aerosols – or small particles – is irresponsible and puts tens of millions of Americans at risk, say workplace safety experts.

“What on earth were they thinking?” said Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, co-executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH). “The eyes of the entire world are on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. It’s unprofessional and irresponsible for the agency to release new, scientifically accurate guidance about the transmission of a deadly virus – and then withdraw it almost immediately.”

At issue is a growing body of evidence – confirmed by over 200 scientists from 32 countries – that the COVID-19 virus can spread through airborne tiny particles, or aerosols, in some cases over distances greater than six feet. This changes previous guidance that the virus is primarily spread through larger-sized droplets at a distance of six feet or less.

The new, scientifically accurate information about aerosol spread has important implications for measures needed to control the virus, including improved ventilation, social distancing, and physical barriers to separate people in workplaces and public spaces.

After posting new information about aerosol transmission on Friday September 18, the CDC withdrew its new recommendations on Monday, September 21. “A draft version of proposed changes,” the agency stated, “was posted in error to the agency’s official website.”

“If you take the CDC’s explanation at face value, the carelessness with which they are handling life-or-death information is inexcusable,” said Goldstein-Gelb.  “If there’s another reason – like caving in to pressure from companies and industries that don’t want to pay to modify their facilities – that’s even worse.”

“Airborne and aerosol transmission of COVID-19 is a fact. Period.” said Peter Dooley, a certified industrial hygienist (CIH) who is Safety and Health Senior Project Coordinator at National COSH. “Whatever is or is not posted on the CDC website, occupational health and safety professionals in every workplace have an obligation to know the facts and implement necessary precautions. Improved ventilation, social distancing and physical barriers reduce the risk of spreading a deadly infectious disease – and save lives.”

COVID-19 resources available from National COSH:

  • Seven things workers should know about COVID-19 – including the facts on aerosol transmission.
  • COVID-19 fatality database, with public reports of more than 700 workers who have died after exposure from COVID-19. This represents just a fraction of total workplace fatalities from the pandemic.
  • “A Safe and Just Return to Work,” a National COSH report with recommendations for keeping workers safe during COVID 19 from labor and community advocates, industrial hygienists, occupational health experts, attorneys, and physicians.
  • Coronavirus Resources for Workers, including fact sheets by industry and occupation, guidelines on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and safe cleaning chemicals; information on Workers’ Compensation and other benefits, and more.

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National COSH links the efforts of local worker health and safety coalitions in communities across the United States, advocating for elimination of preventable hazards in the workplace. For more information, please visit coshnetwork.org. Follow us at National Council for Occupational Safety and Health on Facebook, and @NationalCOSH on Twitter.