University of Colorado prof sharpens criticism of B.C. government view on factors driving COVID-19 transmission

Jose-Luis Jimenez claims that the province has been slower than the World Health Organization in accepting the science around aerosols

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      A U.S. atmospheric-chemistry researcher has denounced the B.C. government’s response to what he believes is overwhelming evidence of airborne transmission of COVID-19.

      University of Colorado Boulder chemistry and biochemistry professor Jose-Luis Jimenez tweeted on September 5 that he has been following the situation in B.C. for more than a year.

      He claimed that B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, has “denied aerosol transmission” of COVID-19 for over a year, which is even longer than the World Health Organization had been denying this.

      Jimenez, a fellow at his university’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, went on to accuse the B.C. government of “one of the most retrograde leadership on this issue” on Earth.

      His comment came after the Straight emailed him a statement from the Ministry of Health, which insisted that “physical distancing, hand washing and staying at home if you are sick are the most effective ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19”.

      Jimenez is the lead author of a recently written paper, “Echoes through time: the historical origins of the droplet dogma and its role in the misidentification of airborne respiratory infection transmission”, which has been submitted for peer review.

      There are 22 other authors from the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Australia, including outspoken mask proponents Dr. Trish Greenhalgh at Oxford University and infectious-disease specialist David Fisman at the University of Toronto.

      “Resistance to the idea of airborne spread of a respiratory infection is not new,” the researchers write in the paper. “In fact, it has occurred repeatedly over much of the last century and greatly hampered understanding of how diseases transmit.”

      They note that the World Health Organization initially declared that the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, was transmitted in large droplets that fell to the ground close to the infected person, as well as by surface touch.

      In fact, they add, the WHO categorically declared on March 28, 2020, that it wasn’t airborne except in connection with aerosol-generating medical procedures—a view repeatedly echoed by the B.C. government.

      “This advice conflicted with that of many scientists who stated that airborne transmission was a significant contributor,” the researchers state in the paper. “Over time, the WHO gradually softened this stance: first conceding that airborne transmission was possible but unlikely; then, without explanation, promoting the role of ventilation to control spread of the virus, which is only useful for controlling airborne pathogens; and, finally, declaring on April 30, 2021 that transmission of SARS-CoV-2 through aerosols is important.”

      According to the paper, this “slow and haphazard acceptance of the evidence of airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2 by major public health organizations contributed to a suboptimal control of the pandemic”.

      “Quicker acceptance of this evidence would have encouraged guidelines that distinguished rules for indoors and outdoors, greater focus on outdoor activities, earlier recommendation for masks, as well as rules for mask wearing indoors even when social distancing could be maintained, ventilation, and filtration,” the researchers state. “Earlier acceptance would have avoided the excessive time and money spent on measures like surface disinfection and plexiglass barriers, which are ineffective for airborne transmission and, in the case of the latter, may even be counterproductive.”

      Jimenez tweeted some of the points in the paper in a long thread in May, which the Straight covered. In July, Greenhalgh dished up an 82-tweet thread on masks, super-spreader events, and airborne COVID-19.

      The Ministry of Health statement, which was sent to the Straight on September 2, stated that masks do not replace hand washing, physical distancing, and staying at home when ill, but can offer an extra layer of protection. The Ministry of Health’s position is that medical N95 respirators “should be reserved for use by health-care providers who need protection from aerosol-generating medical procedures”.

      Jimenez responded by declaring that it is “unbelievable that they still say that handwashing is one of the best ways to prevent spread, or that it is better than masks”.

      He cited articles on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control website and in the journal Nature noting that transmission of COVID-19 through surfaces is difficult—and that “there are zero cases of surface transmissions demonstrated to date”.

      He pointed out if aerosols can infect, “good masks are a critical layer of protection, and one of the most important ones, along with distance, meeting outdoors when possible, and ventilation/filtration of indoor air.”

      “There is no longer a shortage of N95 masks, in fact there are US manufacturers that have millions in stock and can’t sell them,” Jimenez added. “So we believe that we should be recommending N95 for everyone who is going to be in a risky situation (e.g. in health care, in schools, in jobs where air is shared with others for significant periods of time etc).”