White House belatedly concedes COVID spreads primarily through aerosols

It's now at odds with CDC, says infectious disease think tank run by former Biden COVID advisor.
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Joe Biden, White House, Jan. 19, 2022
Joe Biden, 2022
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

COVID-19 spreads primarily through aerosols, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) said in a blog post Wednesday that puts it at odds with the CDC, according to a research center run by President Biden's former COVID advisor Michael Osterholm.

The University of Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) said the White House was "years" behind some experts worldwide in recognizing the primacy of aerosol transmission. "It's worth noting there is no mention of droplets in the blog post," George Washington University public health epidemiologist David Michaels told CIDRAP.

The CDC maintains that "respiratory fluids" - droplets - are the "principal mode" of transmission, distinguishing them from "aerosol particles formed when these fine droplets rapidly dry." CIDRAP research consultant Lisa Brosseau faulted the agency for "underplay[ing]" the science of aerosol transmission "despite so much evidence to the contrary."

OSTP head Alondra Nelson wrote in the blog post that "we can and should talk more about how to make indoor environments safer by filtering or cleaning air."

She implies ventilation, high-quality air filtration and "ultraviolet germicidal irradiation" are more important than masking, particularly in restaurant environments, though Nelson says they should be used alongside "layered prevention strategies" recommended by the CDC, the agency's oft-used phrase for masking, physical distancing, and vaccination.

Michaels and Brosseau faulted the White House for not making the "next obvious conclusion": transitioning Americans away from "inefficient" cloth and surgical masks and toward "optimal respiratory protection such as N95 respirators."