Previously, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), we were told that COVID-19 spread through person to person contact, for example, at a party when nobody is wearing a mask or when two people are standing near each other having a conversation and the droplets from their mouths and noses hit each other. We would picture these people standing or sitting less than 6 feet apart.

With that information, it would be easy to assume that as long as you wear a mask and practice social distancing, there’s no chance you could get COVID-19. It’s not that simple.

Recently, the CDC updated the website with important information about how COVID-19 is spread. While the website indicated that the most common way that COVID-19 spreads is through close person to person contact, the agency now acknowledges that it sometimes spreads by airborne transmission.

“Some infections can be spread by exposure to virus in small droplets and particles that can linger in the air for minutes to hours. These viruses may be able to infect people who are further than 6 feet away from the person who is infected or after that person has left the space…There is evidence that under certain conditions, people with COVID-19 seem to have infected others who were more than 6 feet away. These transmissions occurred within enclosed spaces that had inadequate ventilation. Sometimes the infected person was breathing heavily, for example while singing or exercising.”

Watch the video below for more details about what exactly airborne transmission is and what you can do to protect yourself.

In the video above, we found the example of thinking of airborne transmission like smoke very helpful. It’s easy to picture someone smoking more than 6-feet away, yet you still smell the smoke, and, even after someone has stopped smoking, the smoke still lingers in the air for awhile.

Scientists and researchers have pointed to airborne transmission for COVID-19 for awhile now. Having the CDC acknowledge it as well will hopefully help everyone take this possibility seriously. In a letter published by the journal Science, infectious-disease physicians and aerosol experts warned “There is overwhelming evidence that inhalation of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) represents a major transmission route for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).”

The letter went on to explain, “Individuals with COVID-19, many of whom have no symptoms, release thousands of virus-laden aerosols and far fewer droplets when breathing and talking (46). Thus, one is far more likely to inhale aerosols than be sprayed by a droplet (7), and so the balance of attention must be shifted to protecting against airborne transmission. In addition to existing mandates of mask-wearing, social distancing, and hygiene efforts, we urge public health officials to add clear guidance about the importance of moving activities outdoors, improving indoor air using ventilation and filtration, and improving protection for high-risk workers.”