NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Meharry Hospital CEO Dr. James Hildreth is pointing to new research that he says shows it's not safe for schools to reopen.
The statements were made during Nashville Mayor John Cooper's Thursday's COVID-19 briefing. Dr. Hildreth, who regularly speaks at the briefings, points to a new study from the University of Florida involving COVID-19 particles found in the air in a hospital isolation room.
That study proves, according to Dr. Hildreth, that COVID-19 can be transferred through the air in a controlled environment, such as a hospital isolation room, much less an enclosed space with poor ventilation like schools or churches.
"It is now beyond dispute that children can be infected, will be infected, some of them will get sick, and unfortunately, as we know, some of them will also die," Dr. Hildreth said during Thursday's briefing.
Dr. Hildreth also pointed his comments towards lawmakers pushing for schools to reopen. "With all due respect, some of our elected leaders who have pushed to open schools the hardest are the least qualified to know if it's safe to do so, and they're refusing to listen to the public health experts who spent their whole lives and careers studying these things."
In addition, Dr. Hildreth says the study shows that social distancing may not be enough to keep you safe from the virus. "Social distancing inside, without wearing a mask, is a false sense of security," Dr. Hildreth said. "And this result emphasizes yet again how important it is for all of us, if we're going to beat this pandemic, to wear a mask,"
You can watch Dr. Hildreth's full comments in the video above. They're also detailed in full below.
Summarizing the new research from the University of Florida
Dr. Hildreth began his comments on the research by summarizing a major point about the virus that, up until this research, he says has been unclear. "One of the most important questions about the virus that causes COVID-19 has been whether the virus is truly airborne and can be transmitted if it's not part of large droplets," Dr. Hildreth said. "Observations that the virus can be transmitted in normal conversations by someone who's not showing symptoms certainty supports this idea."
"And also, some investigators have sampled air from rooms where COVID-19 positive individuals have been," Dr. Hildreth continued, "and they found nucleic acids from SARS-CoV2, the COVID-19 virus. But the PCR test is so sensitive that finding nucleic acids from the virus isn't the same as finding the virus. So, it has not been definitively proven that SARS-CoV2 virus is airborne until now."
Dr. Hildreth then went into more details about the study. "They collected air samples from a hospital room that had COVID-19 patients who were not coughing or sneezing and were in isolation rooms," Dr. Hildreth said. "This room have a fairly sophisticated air ventilating system. The total air in the room was changed six times per hour, or every ten minutes. It was filtered down to 0.3 microns, about three times the size of a virus particle. The air was also passed through a UV irradiation device to sterilize it. So, after all that, they took the air from the room, they subjected it to two things: they look for virus nucleic acids, they also ask whether they can culture virus from the air by putting it onto cells that are susceptible to the virus. The answers to both of those questions were yes."
"What's really remarkable is whether the air was collected from six-feet away of 27-feet away, they were able to find the virus in those air samples," Dr. Hildreth continued. "So, despite this sophisticated air ventilating system that included UV irradiation to sterilize it, these investigators were still able to pull the virus out of the air. And keep in mind that these individuals were not coughing or sneezing, they were simply in a hospital room that's an isolation room."
‘A Smoking Gun’: Infectious Coronavirus Retrieved From Hospital Air. SARS-CoV2, the COVID-19 virus, is an airborne virus and as such attention has to be paid to airflow in schools, churches, restaurants or any other place where people gather in groups. https://t.co/PeyCslKtM4— James E.K. Hildreth (@JamesEKHildreth) August 11, 2020
Implications of this new research for schools, public-at-large
"The implications of this finding are pretty profound," Dr. Hildreth said. "First of all, it indicates that social distancing of six feet is probably not adequate to prevent transmission of the virus, especially indoors where the ventilation is poor or not adequate to move the air along. So, social distancing inside, without wearing a mask, is a false sense of security."
"And this result emphasizes yet again how important it is for all of us, if we're going to beat this pandemic, to wear a mask," Dr. Hildreth said. "I think the evidence is now overwhelming that unless we all wear masks we're not going to defeat the virus. It could not be more important to do so."
"This study should inform decisions about opening schools, churches, certain sports venues and other things, especially where large numbers of people will gather and the ventilation is not adequate to change the air frequently," Dr. Hildreth said. So if the virus remains in the air in an isolation room in a hospital that changes the air six times per hour, UV irradiates the air, filters the air triple, three times, and you can still find virus, what makes us think you can open a school where the ventilation is poor and HVAC systems are outdated. I'll leave you to think about that."
"Also, if resources are not provided for the teachers and students to have PPE when they need it, whenever they need it, that's also something to think about," Dr. Hildreth said.
"I realize these are stressful times for school-age children, and it's well understood that the emotional and social well-being of children is probably best served by them being in a school. On the other hand, it is now beyond dispute that children can be infected, will be infected, some of them will get sick, and unfortunately, as we know, some of them will also die. And keep in mind, another point I mentioned before, in past pandemics those who recover from coronaviruses have long-term consequences that go well past the time they recover. We don't know this won't happen in children, but we can predict that it will based on what we've seen in other pandemics, and that's something we need to think about. "
"And please consider this," Dr. Hildreth said. "When our children get sick, we call a pediatrician. If our roof leaks, we call a roofer. And if we're having problems with our teeth, we do not call the auto mechanic, we call a dentist who has been trained to take care of that problem. My point is, with all due respect, some of our elected leaders who have pushed to open schools the hardest are the least qualified to know if it's safe to do so, and they're refusing to listen to the public health experts who spent their whole lives and careers studying these things. So, my advice, as you make the stressful and difficult decisions on whether to have children in a school, please listen to those who spent their whole lives and careers studying and determining whether it would be safe to do so."
"And I can't emphasize enough, from what I just shared with you, how important it is that masks be worn by all of us, because if we don't do that, the virus is continue to win."