The Week That Wasn't in COVID-19: AC vs Open Windows, Antibody Testing in Elite, Conspiracy Theories

Donavyn Coffey


April 17, 2020

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

You may have recently seen news of the effect of an open window on the coronavirus, antibody testing among certain select groups, and various conspiracy theories about the virus. Here's why you didn't see them on Medscape Medical News.

Kill the Air Conditioning, Open a Window

Opening a window could work against the spread of SARS-CoV-2, according to a new review examining how the virus might spread through the human-built environment, including homes, buildings, roads, cars, and public transport. Letting in more outside air could dilute indoor contaminants, whereas air-conditioning could keep viral droplets circulating. The researchers also argue for higher humidification — a relative humidity of 40% — and increased sunlight as a way to reduce the virus' survival.

The review, however, was only partially based on SARS-CoV-2 research. Where information on the novel coronavirus was missing they supplemented their investigation with research on similar coronaviruses, such as those that cause severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), and influenza. The authors admit that many of their recommendations need to be verified in SARS-CoV-2.

Moreover, these recommendations are most applicable to government and institutional facilities. They aren't as applicable for hospitals, clinics, and testing facilities where the virus is most likely spread through person-to-person contact. These recommendations aren't nearly as important for healthcare workers as hand washing and wearing personal protective equipment, so we elected not to cover it.

Elite Groups Receiving Antibody Testing

Two arguably elite populations have been selected for antibody testing, according to news reports. Fisher Island, a private barrier island outside Miami, will test all residents and workers using the 1800 tests purchased by the island last week. Meanwhile, a study conducted by Stanford University and the University of Southern California (USC) will test for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in 10,000 Major League Baseball (MLB)-associated volunteers: players, their families, concessionaires, and ushers.

Fisher Island was selected by the University of Miami because it is a contained population with a large number of individuals over age 65 years. Stanford and USC chose the MLB because it offers a diverse population spread across the country. Even still, the perception that both groups are largely affluent has received pushback on social media.

Ultimately, these studies are focused on tracking past cases of COVID-19 and are not relevant for physicians trying to test and treat patients currently experiencing symptoms. Once the epidemiologic results are in we will report on them, but we decided the start of the studies and associated controversy wasn't newsworthy.

Conspiracy Theories

Nearly one third of Americans believe that the novel coronavirus was created by scientists in a lab, according to a new Pew survey. Of the nearly 9000 respondents, 23% believe the virus was created intentionally and 6% believe it was created accidentally in a lab. News reports suggested these results were surprising because 70% of respondents also said they thought the news media were covering the pandemic well.

Although the exact origin of SARS-CoV-2 is not known, a genetic analysis confirmed the virus was naturally occurring. This survey might be important for policymakers or journalists covering COVID-19, but busy clinicians don't have time to entertain conspiracy theories or respond to them, so we decided not to cover it.

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