The National Public Health Emergency Team is dead, long live Nphet. The group that has led the country through the coronavirus pandemic for the past two years is to be replaced by a 20-person Covid Advisory Group (CAG).
The Department of Health says the new group will monitor the Covid-19 situation, as well as emerging evidence around technologies, practices and interventions. It will also advise the government on responses that may be needed to address the threat of the virus.
In addition to being a lean entity, there are inevitably some new names that weren’t in Nphet Mark 1. Perhaps the most significant is the addition of UCC Physical Chemistry Professor John Wenger.
An expert on the role of ventilation in reducing transmission of Covid-19, his appointment to the new group acknowledges a concern that the role of airborne transmission of the Sars-CoV-2 virus may not have been fully addressed. taken into account.
It wasn’t until October 20, 2020 that the WHO acknowledged that aerosols – tiny grains of liquid – can transmit the virus.
The blind spot on the full significance of airborne virus transmission was global. The World Health Organization (WHO) has resisted recognizing an equal role for airborne transmission and aerosol transmission. At the start of the pandemic, he tweeted: “FACT: #COVID19 is NOT airborne. At that time, the UN agency maintained that the virus was mainly spread by droplets produced when a person coughs, sneezes or speaks. This reflected a longstanding teaching in infection control about how respiratory viruses typically pass from person to person.
It wasn’t until October 20, 2020, that the WHO acknowledged that aerosols – tiny grains of liquid – can transmit the virus, but even then it said it only applied in specific settings. Over the next six months, the agency gradually changed its advice to say that aerosols could carry the virus more than a meter and remain in the air.
WHO recognition places the Sars-CoV-2 virus among a select group of airborne infections, including measles, chicken pox and tuberculosis.
According to the journal Nature, the WHO’s reluctance to accept and release evidence of airborne transmission was based on a series of problematic assumptions about the spread of respiratory viruses. Critics say the agency’s inaction has led to state and local health agencies around the world being equally slow to deal with the aerial threat.
There seems to have been a significant disconnect between doctors and physicists. Infection control experts have long drawn a hard line between droplet viruses and airborne ones, seeing only the latter as able to travel far and linger in the air.
Professor Trish Greenhalgh, professor of primary care research at the University of Oxford, said that in fact the WHO expert panel had not looked at the whole picture that was emerging. “You must explain all the data, not just the data you have chosen to support your point.” She cites the virus’ propensity for transmission in “super-spreading events”, noting: “There is nothing to explain some of these super-spreading events except the spread of aerosols.”
Minimizing the spread of droplets has had the effect of blurring the role of ventilation as a measure to control the spread of Covid
Even now, questions remain about the amount of airborne transmission of COVID-19. But minimizing the spread of droplets has had the effect of blurring the role of ventilation as a measure to control the spread of Covid.
This confusion led Professor Wenger, then chairman of an expert group set up specifically to advise the government on the role ventilation could play in combating the spread of Covid-19, to express his frustration with the Minister of Health Stephen Donnelly in December.
The Minister had repeated several times that open windows and C02 monitors ensure “sufficient” ventilation in schools. This is despite a report by Wenger’s group recommending the use of Hepa (high efficiency particulate air) filters in poorly ventilated areas.
Now that he is a full member of the new CAG, let’s hope Professor Wenger’s expertise will be fully incorporated into its deliberations. A greater role for ventilation in the continuation of Covid-19 preventive measures could be crucial in the fall.