America is considering the widespread use of face masks as research reveals coronavirus could potentially be spread through conversation and breathing.
The World Health Organisation is also assessing its evidence on masks amid suggestions Asian countries where they are widely used have been more effective in containing COVID-19.
Current medical advice is that the virus is transmitted from person to person through cough or sneeze droplets or contaminated hands and that masks are not necessary for the general public.
But a scientific panel has told the White House that COVID-19 could be spread simply by a person exhaling and the virus lingering in the air in “aerosolised droplets”, CNN reports.
A person later walking through the air that was infected by the droplets could potentially contract the virus.
The revelation comes as global infections reached 1 million, with America leading the world tally with more than 226,000 cases – almost double that of Italy.
The findings were explained in a letter to the White House from Dr Harvey Fineberg, chairman of a committee with the National Academy of Sciences, responding to questions about the possibility of coronavirus spreading through conversation.
The letter drew on research from a Chinese hospital where it was found the virus could be suspended in the air when doctors and nurses removed protective gear, when staff moved around or the floors were cleaned.
The University of Nebraska also discovered genetic material from the virus almost 2m away from patients, according to the letter.
Australian social distancing advice recommends people avoid one another by at least 1.5m to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“While the current [coronavirus] specific research is limited, the results of available studies are consistent with aerosolisation of virus from normal breathing,” the letter to the White House states.
“Currently available research supports the possibility that [coronavirus] could be spread via bioaerosols generated directly by patients’ exhalation.
“While the current [coronavirus] specific research is limited, the results of available studies are consistent with aerosolisation of virus from normal breathing.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, a key member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, told CNN the group was actively discussing whether to recommend widespread use of masks with Dr Fauci himself choosing to start wearing a bandana or balaclava when visiting the shops.
In Australia face masks are not recommended for the general population but advised for people who have contracted the virus and come into contact with other people.
Virus spread sparks massive job loss
The US is grappling with the fast-spreading virus and the economic impact has been far reaching with a record 6.6 million Americans applying for unemployment benefits last week, doubling the previous week’s record high.
The job cuts are mounting against a backdrop of economies in the US and abroad having almost certainly sunk into a severe recession as businesses close across the world.
The surging lay-offs have led many economists to envision as many as 20 million lost jobs by the end of April.
The unemployment rate could spike to as high as 15 per cent this month, above the previous record of 10.8 per cent set during a deep recession in 1982.
Many employers are slashing their payrolls to try to stay afloat because their revenue has collapsed, especially at restaurants, hotels, gyms, movie theatres and other venues that depend on face-to-face interaction.
Auto sales have sunk, and factories have closed.
Stay-at-home orders, imposed by most US states, have intensified pressure on businesses, most of which face rent, loans and other bills that must be paid.
The US Congress significantly expanded the unemployment benefits system in last week’s $US2.2 trillion ($3.6 trillion) economic rescue package.
That legislation added $US600 ($1000) a week in jobless aid, on top of what recipients receive from their states.
This will enable many lower-income workers to manage their expenses and even increase their purchasing power and support the economy.