Dr Anthea Katelaris leads team that investigates airborne COVID spread

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The team at Western Sydney Local Health District’s (WSLHD) Public Health Unit have found evidence that airborne transmission of COVID-19 can happen under the right conditions following an investigation into an outbreak at a western Sydney church.

The outbreak stemmed from several July 2020 church services where 12 people who attended the services in western Sydney were infected with COVID-19.

Dr Anthea Katelaris is a Public Health Doctor at the WSLHD Public Health Unit and the lead author of the research paper published in the Centers for Disease Control Emerging Infectious Disease journal this week.

“While the vast majority of COVID-19 transmission occurs from direct or close contact between people, this study supports previous studies which suggest that, occasionally, airborne transmission of COVID can occur under certain conditions,” Dr Katelaris told Channel 10.

The initial person infected was a choir singer who was asymptomatic – they were not showing any symptoms of COVID-19 when they sung at the church service. 

They were located in a choir loft, 3.5 metres above the congregation, which they entered before and left after the service. They did not touch objects or mix with the general congregation, making direct transmission unlikely.

This was backed up by video recordings of the service, which the team – along with doctors from The Westmead Institute for Medical Research and the University of Sydney – meticulously reviewed.

“The conditions that lend themselves to airborne spread of COVID seem to be in crowded indoor settings with poor ventilation, especially when combined with higher-risk activities like singing or shouting,” said Dr Katelaris.

“This is why we recommend physical distancing – especially during activities like singing – wearing a mask when people cannot physically distance, gathering outdoors where possible, and increasing natural or mechanical ventilation.”

Dr Katelaris thanked churchgoers for following recent health advice and adhering to restrictions when needed, as well as the western Sydney church and its congregation for their cooperation in the world-leading study.

*Source: The Pulse

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