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There are now 2 coronavirus safety guidelines from the CDC that you should ignore

Published Aug 6th, 2020 9:21AM EDT
Coronavirus Tips
Image: AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

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  • The CDC’s coronavirus tips have been a go-to resource for Americans looking to keep their families safe and help slow the spread of COVID-19.
  • It’s crucial that we adhere to most of the recommendations on the CDC’s site, but there are a few guidelines that should be ignored.
  • The CDC has admitted that one of its most important recommendations may in fact be misguided, and it’s an important reminder that we should always err on the side of caution.

Back in June, the CDC made a major change to the coronavirus tips available on its website. After countless studies proved over and over again that coronavirus spreads mainly in aerosols that drift between people in the air, the CDC became clearer in acknowledging the dangers of person-to-person transmission. “The virus that causes COVID-19 is spreading very easily and sustainably between people,” the CDC said on its site. “Information from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic suggests that this virus is spreading more efficiently than influenza, but not as efficiently as measles, which is highly contagious. In general, the more closely a person interacts with others and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread.”

Needless to say, this was a crucially important change. At the same time, however, the CDC made another change that was surprisingly reckless and irresponsible. “The virus does not spread easily in other ways,” the CDC said in its revision back in June, noting that it is likely not easy to catch COVID-19 from touching surfaces or objects. We were shocked by this careless change and we told our readers at the time that it should be completely ignored.

The good news is that someone at the CDC came to his or her senses because that change ended up being walked back. The site now states that “it may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes.” The bad news, however, is that it turns out one of the main recommendations made by the CDC to avoid catching the novel coronavirus may be dangerously inaccurate.

The very first sentence at the top of the CDC’s How COVID-19 Spreads page reads as follows: “COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly through close contact from person-to-person. Some people without symptoms may be able to spread the virus.” Beneath that are a few bullet points about person-to-person spread:

  • Between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet).
  • Through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks.
  • These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.
  • COVID-19 may be spread by people who are not showing symptoms.

Click through to the CDC’s page on social distancing guidelines, and you’ll find that 6-foot recommendation repeated numerous times. In its public health guidelines, the CDC has said that “close contact” can be considered being closer than 6 feet to a person for 15 minutes or longer. Now, however, the agency is finally acknowledging that those figures are not necessarily good guidelines to follow.

In a call with the media last week, CDC COVID-19 response team boss John Brooks said that the 6 feet/15 minutes guideline likely isn’t enough to keep people safe. In some circumstances, Brooks acknowledged that being in close proximity to an infected person for “only a few seconds” can be long enough to catch COVID-19.

“Context really matters here,” Brooks said, as noted by BestLife. “It might be short, but if your voice was raised, say to speak over loud machinery, or if someone was coughing or sneezing, you might want to err on the side of caution.”

Studies have now proven the scariest thing about the novel coronavirus. It spreads mainly through the air in microscopic droplets that are invisible to the naked eye. Those droplets can be ejected by an infected person merely from speaking — not only from yelling, coughing, and sneezing — and transmission can occur if those microscopic aerosols reach your mouth, nose, or even your eyes.

Face masks help. A lot. They make it less likely for people with COVID-19 to spread the disease, and they help protect healthy people from catching it. But social distancing is also crucial. Droplets containing the novel coronavirus can travel much farther than 13 feet even without any wind, and some studies suggest that they can linger in the air for several hours. Long story short, the CDC’s 6 feet/15 minutes guideline that we’ve been seeing so much should be disregarded entirely

Zach Epstein
Zach Epstein Executive Editor

Zach Epstein has been the Executive Editor at BGR for more than 10 years. He manages BGR’s editorial team and ensures that best practices are adhered to. He also oversees the Ecommerce team and directs the daily flow of all content. Zach first joined BGR in 2007 as a Staff Writer covering business, technology, and entertainment.

His work has been quoted by countless top news organizations, and he was recently named one of the world's top 10 “power mobile influencers” by Forbes. Prior to BGR, Zach worked as an executive in marketing and business development with two private telcos.