Zeynep Tufekci co-authors Lancet paper on coronavirus airborne transmission

April 16, 2021

Zeynep Tufekci, Associate Professor at the UNC School of Information and Library Science (SILS), is co-author of “Ten scientific reasons in support of airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2,” published April 15 in the medical journal Lancet.

The paper presents overwhelming evidence that the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, is predominantly transmitted through the air. Based on this determination, Tufekci and the other authors urge public health officials to amend their recommendations so that mitigation efforts focus on reducing airborne transmission.

“It’s essential that the guidelines to the public accurately explain transmission mechanisms and their relative importance rather than focusing on binary rules like ‘six feet’ that do not apply the same way across different contexts,” said Tufekci in an announcement about the paper from the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Snapshot of Zeynep Tufekci
Zeynep Tufekci on a 2020 research trip to Sri Lanka. 

Given the paper’s findings, airborne control measures such improving ventilation and air filtration, reducing crowding and the amount of time people spend indoors, wearing masks indoors, and providing higher-grade PPE for healthcare workers need to be prioritized over “droplet measures” like handwashing and surface cleaning.

“We cannot fix this situation without accurately informing the public so that people feel empowered to make decisions to better protect themselves across different contexts, and adjusting guidelines globally to fit the best available evidence,” Tufekci said.

An international, interdisciplinary team of experts, led by the University of Oxford’s Trish Greenhalgh, reviewed published research and identified 10 lines of evidence to support the predominance of the airborne route. 

“We were able to identify and interpret highly complex and specialist papers on the dynamics of fluid flows and the isolation of live virus,” Greenhalgh said. “While some individual papers were assessed as weak, overall the evidence base for airborne transmission is extensive and robust. There should be no further delay in implementing measures around the world to protect against such transmission.”

A principal researcher with Carolina’s Center for Information, Technology, and Public Life (CITAP), Zeynep Tufekci has garnered extensive praise for using her writing and influence to help improve the public’s understanding of the COVID-19 pandemic, staring in early 2020.

She was named Tar Heel of the Month  by the News & Observer in February, and last fall, the New York Times lauded her for "Getting the Big Things Right" on a number of topics.

Tufekci has been a contributing writer with The Atlantic since 2019 and has written numerous op-eds for the New York Times  over several years. She also publishes a newsletter at zeynep.substack.com.