The Week That Wasn't in COVID-19: Airborne Transmission, 'Breakthrough,' N95

Ellie Kincaid


May 01, 2020

This week in COVID-19 news, researchers found coronavirus RNA in a variety of places in and around a hospital, an experimental drug may be effective against SARS-CoV-2, and a driver in New Jersey lost consciousness and crashed while wearing an N95 respirator. You didn't see these headlines on Medscape, though. Here's why.

Is the Coronavirus Airborne?

Researchers in Wuhan, China, who sampled the air of various spaces within and outside two hospitals dedicated to COVID-19 patients found RNA from SARS-CoV-2 in a patient bathroom, in rooms where healthcare workers had removed personal protective equipment (PPE), and in outdoor public areas where crowds could gather or where many people passed by. Levels of viral RNA were low or the virus was undetectable in most other public areas and sampling sites where patients were present, such as ward rooms and intensive care units. The work, posted as a preprint in March, was published in the journal Nature on Monday.

The research is important as an incremental step toward learning whether SARS-CoV-2 can spread via airborne transmission, but it's not the last word. The researchers found viral genetic material, but they did not test whether the aerosols carried viruses capable of infecting cells. It's also not clear whether the amount of virus circulating in aerosols ― if infectious ― would add up to a big enough dose for an exposed person to become infected. With those limitations, and the key question of airborne transmission still unanswered, we didn't think our readers needed to know about the results of this particular study rather than others with more direct clinical application.

"Breakthrough" From Louisville

In what's been called a "breakthrough" in news reports, researchers from the University of Louisville in Kentucky have done proof-of-concept experiments that indicate that an experimental drug they discovered is effective against SARS-CoV-2, according to a university press release. It's not clear whether that research has been published or shared on a preprint server or evaluated by other experts, but the scientists plan to seek the US Food and Drug Administration's permission to begin a clinical trial.

COVID-19 research moves fast, but not fast enough that news of this experimental drug, which is not yet available even through a clinical trial for patients with COVID-19, is relevant for busy clinicians.

Driver Wears N95, Passes Out

A driver in New Jersey lost consciousness and crashed while wearing an N95 respirator. The driver had worn the mask for "several hours," a local police department posted on Facebook. The police stated that they believed "the excessive wearing of an N95 mask was a contributing factor to this accident," but that they could not be certain.

Many healthcare workers are experiencing the effects of wearing PPE for long hours during the COVID-19 pandemic, which include skin irritation and skin damage. This single incident doesn't shed much new light on the issue, and we expect healthcare professionals already know that wearing an N95 ― or another mask ― while driving alone in a car is unnecessary.

Ellie Kincaid is Medscape's associate managing editor. She has previously written about healthcare for Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, and Nature Medicine.

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