Coronavirus: Can COVID-19 Be Transmitted Through Talking or Breathing?

As more research is done into the transmission of the novel coronavirus, experts now believe that the pathogen could be transmitted by someone who has COVID-19 simply talking or breathing, according to research presented to the White House this week. While previous knowledge had suggested the illness could only spread when someone who was infected expelled respiratory droplets while coughing or sneezing, new research suggests invisible respiratory droplets could be similarly dangerous.

“You may generate droplets that are invisible — they're so tiny that you can’t see them, but they're certainly big enough to carry a virus, if you happen to have it in you, when you're talking,” wrote Dr. Harvey Fineberg, president of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation in Palo Alto, California.

Joseph Fair, a virologist and NBC News contributor, told TODAY this research stemmed from studying critically ill COVID-19 patients who were hospitalized with labored breathing, adding that while there was evidence of the virus found in their breathing, it does not mean it was an infectious virus. This echoes what Dr. Anthony Fauci said in a coronavirus task force briefing on March 20: "There is some degree of asymptotic transmissibility. It's still not quite clear exactly what that is."

Thursday, in light of these new findings, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention added talking to coughing and sneezing in its guidelines as for ways a COVID-19 positive person can transmit the disease. While the CDC still advises that people who are not sick don't need to wear a mask unless they are around someone who is infected, The New York Times reports that a change in those guidelines is imminent, with new recommendations reportedly urging Americans wear cloth face coverings in public to prevent the spread from asymptomatic infected people.

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Fair added to TODAY that handkerchiefs, bandannas or "anything you can tie around your face" can serve as a sufficient mask amid the nationwide shortage of N95 masks for healthcare workers. Fair advised people wear these coverings in places like grocery stores and pharmacies where people will be required to be in closer quarters with one another.

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