Discussion: Airborne transmission, ventilation, and reopening schools and workplaces

The World
Updated on
A row of children are shown with their hands raised and wearing school uniforms.

Wearing masks and plastic gloves to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, girls raise their hands during class in Havana, Cuba, on Nov. 2, 2020.

Ramon Espinosa/AP

A US government advisory panel convened on Thursday to decide whether to endorse mass use the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to help counter the coronavirus pandemic that has killed close to 300,000 Americans and more than 1.5 million worldwide.

The meeting of outside advisers to the Food and Drug Administration represented the next-to-last hurdle before the expected start of the biggest vaccination campaign in US history.

If approved the US would become the third country in the West to approve Pfizer's vaccine. Canadian health officials on Wednesday approved the vaccine, following only the United Kingdom's emergency authorization last week. Canadians could begin receiving the inoculation against the coronavirus as early as next week.

Related discussion: Surging coronavirus cases and new vaccines

Despite a possible light at the end of the tunnel, social distancing will still be critical for some time to come. And experts continue to recommend wearing masks.

So what is the latest scientific information about airborne COVID-19 transmission? And how might that information impact strategies around reopening schools and workplaces?

Related: Do offices have a future?

As part of our regular series of conversations about the coronavirus presented in partnership with Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health, The World’s Elana Gordon moderated a discussion with healthy buildings expert Joseph Allen.