What We're Reading: CDC’s About-Face on COVID-19 as Airborne; HHS Revokes FDA's Rule-Making Authority; Flying During the Pandemic

September 21, 2020

The CDC abruptly pulled guidance saying that COVID-19 is primarily spread via airborne transmission; HHS issues memo stating that the FDA no longer has the authority to sign any new rules on food, vaccines; a novel study examines risk of infection during a flight.

CDC Pulls Guidance on COVID-19 Airborne Transmission

This story has been updated.

The CDC removed from its website Monday revised guidance, published Friday, saying that the transmission of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is airborne. The Hill and The Washington Post reported that the CDC says the document was posted in error. The Hill reported that the CDC said the guidance posted Friday was a “draft version of proposed changes.”

HHS Secretary Issues Rule-Making Authority Over FDA

Reported by The New York Times, HHS Secretary Alex Azar issued a memo on September 15 stating the FDA no longer has the authority to sign any new rules regarding the nation’s foods, medicines, medical devices, and vaccines, a power that Azar notes is reserved to himself. While it is unclear how the memo may change the vetting and approval process for a COVID-19 vaccine, the new policy could lead to delays in the regulatory process. During his tenure as the former FDA commissioner, Scott Gottlieb was a known opponent to the proposed policy. In an appearance on “Face the Nation,” Gottlieb cited the announcement as the “wrong move at the wrong time.”

Flying During the Pandemic

Reported by The Hill, a novel study by the CDC found that 1 person with COVID-19 infected 15 others during a long-haul flight from London to Vietnam in early March. As one of the first studies to analyze the dangers of in-flight transmission of COVID-19, researchers note that the most likely route of spread during the flight is via aerosol or droplet transmission, especially among passengers in business class, as well as during pre-departure and boarding. The study was conducted before mask mandates were required on flights, which was noted to help reduce the risk of transmission. However, researchers say that more on-board precautions and screening procedures are warranted.