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Dr Christopher Oura

As the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to climb, virologist Professor Christopher Oura is warning that if citizens do not play their part in flattening the curve, then this country can possibly lose the fight to the COVID-19 virus as recently seen in the case of India.

Yesterday, T&T recorded 233 new cases and eight deaths, the later being the highest number of deaths during a 24-hour period. There have been 42 deaths for the first nine days of this month and an overall total of 211 deaths.

Oura noted that last Friday the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recognised that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is airborne and can be transmitted via respiratory fluids, which are fine droplets released during respiration.

Revising its public guidelines on COVID-19, the top US medical body modified the listed modes of SARS-CoV-2 transmission to comprise the probability of the virus being airborne.

“People release respiratory fluids during exhalation (e.g, quiet breathing, speaking, singing, exercise, coughing, sneezing) in the form of droplets across a spectrum of sizes. These droplets carry virus and transmit infection,” the updated guidelines on the CDC’s website noted.

Speaking to Guardian Media Ltd from the UK Oura said while the Health Ministry “can advice, recommend and mandate certain things” at the end of the day “it’s the people who need to follow the rules.”

“If the people of Trinidad and Tobago do not follow the rules; if they continue to mix households, get up close and congregate then this virus is going to carry on spreading so it’s a matter of not just the Government.

“If people don’t adhere to the measures we will lose this and we have seen what’s happening in countries around the world like India. It is really important now with the number of cases and the deaths (in T&T) that we flatten this peak,” Oura said.

The CDC also noted that while infections through inhalation at distances greater than six feet from an infectious source are not as likely, an infectious person breathing out the virus indoors for a prolonged period of time can result in concentration of the virus in the air, which may then infect people who are even six feet away.

“This is the evidence that has come up over time, that these very small droplets can be suspended in the air and they can move so in some cases they can move more than six feet away. It’s not as common. The majority of risk is within the two metres but there is proof that beyond that two metres, beyond that six feet there is a small risk those small droplets will pass that distance and will be able to infect somebody,”Oura explained.

Apart from the regular washing and sanitisation of hands, warning of masks and social distancing, Oura said proper ventilation is critical in homes and businesses.

“What we do need to emphasis from the CDC’s information is we need to remember ventilation is important in closed spaces and in air-conditioning rooms.

“We have to take into consideration there is a risk beyond two metres under certain circumstances especially when you’re indoors and when there’s no ventilation so people have to be aware there is a risk. For example if a person who was transmitting the virus through sneezes and coughs was in a room for like 15 minutes and then they left the room and somebody else came into the room 15 minutes later there may well be those small droplets still suspended in the air. Not only do we need to take the masks into consideration but also the ventilation,” Oura emphasised.

He said the majority of risk is still within that two metre distance but noted that the virus is potentially air borne “every where.”

“When we speak and even breath a certain amount of droplets come out of our mouths and nose and that gets projected into the air and the larger droplets we produce fall to the ground very quickly within a short space and the go on to surface.

“But there are and there has been evidence recently over time that there are some smaller droplets that are able to be suspended in the air for longer periods of time that they, as the large droplets have virus on them so if they are breath in we have a danger of being infected,” Oura said.

Saying that the airborne spread “ is nothing really new” Oura said people need to understand that this virus is spread usually within a relatively short distance- two metres.

“But also critically it (the virus) can sit around in the air for longer on those smaller droplets so we have to be aware that the things we have been told to do do not change at all because masks stop or significantly reduce those droplets from being released from the mouth and they significantly reduce those droplets from going into our mouths,”Oura added.