Atmospheric chemistry expert offers historical context on how health agencies missed mark on airborne COVID-19

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      Last July, the Georgia Straight published a story listing 10 COVID-19 facts that should scare people into wearing masks.

      Under the subheadline "Airborne transmission", writer Martin Dunphy cited growing evidence that the SARS-CoV-2 virus could spread through aerosols.

      According to Dunphy, research suggested that these aerosols were "much smaller droplets, less than five micrometres in diameter".

      They could be "exhaled while breathing and talking". Moreover, he noted that they "can even hitchhike on dust particles and travel on air currents".

      Dunphy cited a July 8 article in Nature, which suggested that these particles can linger, particularly in poorly ventilated enclosed spaces, elevating the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

      To bolster this argument, Nature cited a commentary signed by 239 clinicians, infectious-disease physicians, epidemiologists, engineers, and aerosol scientists in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.

      This commentary urged public-health authorities to pay attention to the possibility of airborne transmission of COVID-19.

      One of the scientists who helped formulate the commentary that appeared last July was Jose-Luis Jimenez. He's an expert on aerosols and atmospheric chemistry at the University of Colorado.

      Jimenez is the fifth most-cited scientist in the world over the past 10 years in the geosciences, according to his university web profile.

      This weekend, he wrote a long Twitter thread to try to explain why major public-health organizations got the issue of airborne transmission so wrong for so long.

      It came after the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease finally accepted that airborne transmission spreads COVID-19. They had previously maintained that exhaled droplets, which fall to the ground or floor, were responsible.

      You can read Jimenez's thread below.

      A duty of care?

      The fact that Jimenez and others were raising this issue a year ago raises some thorny legal issues for governments.

      How will they defend themselves from class-action lawsuits filed by lawyers who claim that their clients died because public-health experts ignored evidence of airborne COVID-19 transmission?

      How will these public-health experts respond to claims that they had a personal as well as a public duty of care?

      It's not just public-health experts who could find themselves in court.

      Police agencies that have refused to ticket antimask demonstrations, including in Vancouver, could also conceivably find themselves answering questions in court. This is especially so if any deaths can be linked to refusals to enforce laws around public gatherings for ideological reasons.

      The issue of airborne transmission of COVID-19 is a legal minefield. And it's one that the City of Vancouver, Vancouver Police Department, and the B.C. government would be wise to pay attention to in the future.