CDC Reverses Guidance for Second Time in a Week, Removes COVID Airborne Warning

The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reversed its guidance on the spread of COVID-19 for the second time in the last seven days as it removed its new airborne warning early Monday.

The health agency said it erroneously posted that the virus spreads through airborne particles in its latest update released Friday. The new guidelines suggested that the coronavirus can be suspended in the air and transmitted over distances greater than the precautionary six feet and that indoor ventilation is a key factor in containing the outbreak.

"A draft version of proposed changes to these recommendations was posted in error to the agency's official website," a banner on the website reads. "CDC is currently updating its recommendations regarding airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). Once this process has been completed, the update language will be posted."

On Friday, the CDC had updated its website to state that COVID-19 can be passed "through respiratory droplets or small particles, such as those in aerosols produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, sings, talks, or breathes...There is growing evidence that droplets and airborne particles can remain suspended in the air and be breathed in by others, and travel distances beyond 6 feet (for example, during choir practice, in restaurants, or in fitness classes)."

Previously, the droplets were listed as being produced "when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks," without mention of airborne suspension.

In a statement sent to Newsweek, the CDC said internal concerns "led to revision of the 'How COVID-19 Spreads' web page without appropriate in-house technical review."

"We are reviewing our process and tightening criteria for review of all guidance and updates before they are posted to the CDC website," an agency spokesperson said.

Robert Redfield CDC
(From right:) Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; and Admiral Brett Giroir, U.S. assistant secretary for health, listen during a House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis hearing in Washington, DC, July 31, 2020. On Monday, the CDC took down its aerosol guidance, saying that it was initially put up "in error." Erin Scott/AFP

This comes after the World Health Organization (WHO) said it contacted the CDC about the change.

During a Monday news conference at the WHO headquarters in Geneva, executive director of the international agency's health emergencies program, Dr. Mike Ryan, said the WHO had not seen any "new evidence" on airborne particles and that they were in touch with the CDC to understand the update.

The WHO said it is monitoring "emerging evidence" from studies of potential airborne transmission but that the agency's position "remains the same."

"We've always said going back over months and months about the potential for different kinds of roots of transmission and particularly driven by the context, the proximity, the intensity, the duration and the potential for different forms of transmission," Ryan said.

The CDC also changed its guidance on Friday, saying that asymptomatic people who have come in contact with an infected person should be tested.

"If you have been in close contact, such as within 6 feet of a person with documented SARS-CoV-2 infection for at least 15 minutes and do not have symptoms, you need a test," the website read.

Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, has been vocal that more asymptomatic people should be tested for COVID-19.

This was the second time the CDC reversed its guidance on testing asymptomatic people.

This story has been updated with additional information and background.

Update 22/09/20 8:24 a.m. This story was updated with comment from the CDC.