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Fact check: Research papers have put forward evidence for airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2

Posts shared widely on social media allege there is no scientific basis behind the use of face coverings during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is false.

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS

The claim was shared on Jan. 9 and consisted of a quote from “Dr David Martin” claiming: “There is not a SINGLE paper – not one – that has actually documented that the pathogen detected in one patient was transmitted through the air from another patient…which means every single mask mandate is based on a BELIEF, not on science.” (here)

The spread of COVID-19

The United States’ Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its advice on the novel coronavirus on Oct. 5 2020 and stated that: “The principal mode by which people are infected with SARS-CoV-2 is through exposure to respiratory droplets carrying the infectious virus.” (here)

This means people can be infected when they inhale tiny droplets that fly out when a person breathes, sneezes, coughs, sings or talks (here).

Droplet transmission is different to airborne transmission. The former occurs when someone is close to the infectious person, generally within about six feet, whereas the latter involves smaller droplets that remain in the air for hours over long distances, according to the CDC (here).

Guidance from the CDC and the World Health Organisation states that most COVID-19 infections spread through close contact droplet transmission (here).

“Airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2 can occur under special circumstances,” the CDC guidance reads. These circumstances include enclosed spaces, inadequate ventilation and prolonged exposure to particles, it says.

It goes on to provide a long list of references, which include papers with titles such as “Evidence for probable aerosol transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in a poorly ventilated restaurant” (here), “Outbreak Associated with Air Conditioning in Restaurant, Guangzhou, China, 2020” (here) and “Aerosol transmission of SARS-CoV-2? Evidence, prevention and control” (here).

A team of global health scientists and infection preventionists at the Meedan Digital Health Lab compiled a summary regarding what is known about coronavirus transmission using scientific studies (here).

The WHO also provides a list of references to papers documenting the spread of coronavirus via respiratory particles here .

Face coverings

Many governments have recommended face coverings to reduce the transmission of COVID-19, for instance here and here .

According to the Meedan Digital Health Lab, “mask wearing is a fundamental element of pandemic response for respiratory illnesses because masks act as a physical barrier from the release of infectious respiratory droplets that may come from your mouth or nose when you speak, sing, sneeze or cough.” (here)

This information is repeated by the CDC (here), WHO (here) and others.

This guidance is not based on a belief, as the post falsely claims, but scientific evidence that masks reduce the spread of droplets containing the virus. The UK government advice reads: “The best available scientific evidence is that, when used correctly, wearing a face covering may reduce the spread of coronavirus droplets in certain circumstances, helping to protect others.”

Dr David Martin

The social media post attributes the quote to a Dr David Martin. No further information is given about this individual's identity in the post, however a man going by the name of David Martin participated in an August 2020 film called “Plandemic: Indoctornation” that promoted conspiracy theories around the pandemic (here , here and here).

VERDICT

False. Scientific papers have put forward evidence suggesting that the SARS-CoV-2 virus, a pathogen, has been transmitted by an infected individual to other people through the air via both large and smaller droplets. Face coverings act as a physical barrier to reduce the spread of the droplets. Mask mandates in response to the pandemic are based on available evidence, not belief.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .

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