The chairman of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has reported to the White House that simply talking and breathing could be spreading the coronavirus, according to new research.

Dr Harvey Fineberg, who is also a former Harvard School of Public Health dean, discussed his advice to the Trump administration with CNN, noting that aerosolized coronavirus droplets are capable of lingering in the air and infecting anyone who walks by, even hours later.

“While the current [coronavirus] specific research is limited, the results of available studies are consistent with aerosolization of virus from normal breathing,” Dr. Fineberg wrote in the letter to the White House.

“This letter responds to your question concerning the possibility that [coronavirus] could be spread by conversation, in addition to sneeze/cough – induced droplets. Currently, available research supports the possibility that [coronavirus] could be spread via bioaerosols generated directly by patient exhalation.” the letter also states.

Dr Fineberg’s comments dovetail with recent research conducted by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The letter also notes that research carried out by the University of Nebraska has shown that the virus was present in rooms more than six feet away from coronavirus patients.

Dr Fineberg said that the potency of the virus in the air depends on “how much virus an infected individual puts out when breathing or talking, and also … the amount of circulation in the air.” He also noted that research suggests the virus “can remain viable and infectious” in the air for at least three hours.

“If you generate an aerosol of the virus with no circulation in a room, it’s conceivable that if you walk through later, you could inhale the virus,” Fineberg explained. “But if you’re outside, the breeze will likely disperse it.”

The findings may lead to a change in guidance previously issued by the World Health Organisation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to stay six feet away from other people. It may also prompt the government to advise that everyone in the US wears face masks when leaving home.

Dr Fineberg said that while surgical masks should be reserved for health care workers, he intends to wear a bandanna or other face covering when shopping for food and essentials.

“I’m not going to wear a surgical mask, because clinicians need those,” Fineberg said, adding “But I have a nice western-style bandana I might wear. Or I have a balaclava. I have some pretty nice options.”

Some officials in the US have already implemented mandatory use of face masks, under threat of fines or even arrest, while others are urging citizens to wear them.

There is sure to be a renewed scramble for face masks if the advice is officially implemented, however, it may be difficult to acquire the masks, given that shops have shortages and Amazon has banned the sale of them.

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