CDC Says Airborne Coronavirus Transmission Guidance 'Posted in Error'

The CDC recently changed its guidance on coronavirus transmission, after posting a draft 'in error.'
Brad Bergan

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has suddenly walked back its earlier guidance on how the coronavirus illness is transmitted between humans — eliminating language regarding airborne transmission posted only days ago, according to the CDC's website.


CDC guidance on airborne coronavirus transmission 'posted in error'

"A draft version of proposed changes to these recommendations was posted in error to the agency's official website. CDC is currently updating its recommendations regarding the airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). Once this process has been completed, the update [sic] language will be posted," said CDC spokesman Jason McDonald in an email to CNN.

The guidance was quietly updated on Friday, according to the official website of the CDC. While several studies have said the coronavirus may spread via small airborne particles, the CDC page now says the virus spreads primarily between people in close proximity — roughly 6 feet — and "through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks."

UPDATE Sept. 21, 2:55 PM EDT: Redacted COVID-19 language from CDC

The now-removed language on CDC's website said COVID-19 is primarily spread between people in close proximity to one another, and added that it commonly spreads "through respiratory droplets or small particles, such as those in aerosols, produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, sings, talks or breathes," according to CNN.

The agency also said these particles may cause infection when "inhales into the nose, mouth, airways, and lungs," in addition to saying: "This is thought to be the main way the virus spreads."

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"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)," read the page in a Friday update, which has since been changed. "In general, indoor environments without good ventilation increase this risk."

UPDATE Sept. 21, 3:10 PM EDT: CDC updates on coronavirus transmission measures

The Friday update saw the CDC add new measures for personal protection, including advice on using air purifiers to reduce airborne germs within indoor spaces, in addition to clear guidance to "stay at least 6 feet away from others, whenever possible."

The CDC's newly-updated page also altered the language surrounding asymptomatic transmission, adjusting from saying "some people without symptoms may be able to spread the virus" to saying "people who are infected but do not show symptoms can spread the virus to others." That section has now been retracted.

UPDATE Sept. 21, 3:15 PM EDT: CDC stresses testing needed after close contact to people infected with coronavirus

The CDC also updated its coronavirus testing guidance to emphasize the need for anyone who's come in close proximity to an infected person should seek immediate testing for coronavirus. Earlier, a controversial update not written by CDC scientists was prematurely posted online, before it was placed under scientific review, according to a CNN report.

As the world's health experts work to best advise the public on best practices surrounding the COVID-19 coronavirus, some errors are bound to occur. Just like in engineering, nothing is perfect — and mistakes while rare are only a matter of time.

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