Gov’t adviser figures in debate with US aerosol expert on COVID-19 transmission

January 10, 2022 - 3:33 PM
Vendors, truck drivers and other essential workers line up to receive their booster shot at the night market in Divisoria, Manila on Jan. 5, 2022. (The STAR/Miguel de Guzman)

A distinguished professor of chemistry had an exchange with the special adviser to the National Task Force Against COVID-19 about the transmission of the virus after the latter called out some of the country’s practices.

In an interview with ANC last Friday, Jose-Luis Jimenez, an aerosol expert from the University of the Colorado Boulder, said that the face shields are “outdated.” He added that the government should emphasize the use of quality masks instead.

“Face shields are outdated. At the beginning of the pandemic, we saw that when two people talk, there were some projectiles, these droplets, were flying through the air and then a face shield could intercept them,” he said in the interview.

“Now we know that’s not the case. It’s like smoke, and the smoke can go under the face shield. So face shields, basically, are useless except in a hospital,” Jimenez added.

“If someone’s gonna cough in your face… but really, what we need in a place like a hospital, since there can be transmission through the eyes and aerosols can get under the face shields, is to have some closed glasses. Like safety glasses that you may use in a laboratory or something like that,” he further said.

“And face shields are not useful, we should invest our money instead of in… masks and things that actually work,” the professor added.

A Filipino physician shared a link of Jimenez’s interview on Twitter, where the latter’s validity to sound off remarks were questioned by physician Teodoro “Teddy” Herbosa on Sunday.

“We usually take caution on in vitro analyses because microbes don’t follow them in Vivo. I just wonder if his statements have any validity in clinical practice, he has no expertise on disease epidemiology and pathogenesis,” Herbosa tweeted.

In response, Jimenez said that he “lead a peer-reviewed paper” demonstrating that superspreading of COVID-19 “is due to shared-room airborne transmission.”

Jimenez also said that he also did the “epi (epidemiology) part of the paper” on the COVID-19 transmission at the Skagit Valley Chorale superspreading event.

“I collaborate with medical expert such as @trishgreenhalgh, epid. Like @DFisman, microbiologist like Stephanie Dander and Raymond Yellowed, virologists like Julian Tang…” the professor added in another tweet.

Herbosa then replied to his first response where the professor linked a paper on shared-room airborne transmission.

“Airborne or aerosolized transmissions? The path (of) on bech science to clinical practice is a long route. You need be cautious with dogmatic statements be cause lives are lost when the science and interpretation of evidence is wrong,” Herbosa responded.

Jimenez told him that airborne and aerosol transmission “are the same thing” and added that the World Health Organization “uses both terms interchangeably for both short-range and long-range.”

“I wish @WHO had considered that BEFORE they told us airborne transmission of COVID was MISINFORMATION,” the professor said.

Herbosa called Jimenez out for sharing a 2020 tweet and said that the WHO eventually accepted the virus’ aerosol transmissibility.

“Yes, after yelling at us when we met with them (@WHO
and its IPC committee) on 3-Apr-2020, when we already had MORE evidence of airborne transmission than they did for large droplets or fomites,” Jimenez responded.

Herbosa responded by sharing a news article that reported the country’s low case fatality rate but Jimenez argued that low death rate happens “after transmission.”

“I am debating what happens BEFORE transmission and the measures to avoid it,” the professor said.

Meanwhile, a Filipino Twitter user replied to Jimenez in the thread and told him that there are still barriers in motorcycle taxis.

“For the record, we still have this idiotic policy in our motorcycles. Stupidity found only in the Philippines,” he wrote.

The Twitter user shared pictures of the plastic barrier installed in a motorcycle taxi service and tagged Herbosa’s account.

In 2020, there have been debates on whether plastic barriers should be installed to separate the rider and the passenger. The government imposed that rule during the latter part of the year.

“What is that? Is that in case of accident or to reduce transmission?” Jimenez asked in response to the plastic barrier rule.

“They thought putting up these barriers will reduce COVID-19 transmissions. The government here mandated motorcycle barriers, much to the protest of the Philippine Society of Mechanical Engineers,” wind engineer Joshua Agar answered Jimenez back.

“Outdoors? Ay ay ay. This belongs in hall of shame,” Jimenez commented, referencing his past thread where he tagged some countries’ ineffective measures against mitigating the virus’ transmission.

RELATED: Philippines’ plastic barriers in schools named under ‘world #COVIDHallofShame’s worst practices

Herbosa chimed in the discussion and said that he is “not convinced” about the effectivity of the motorcycle device.

“Those are face shields are no longer mandatory,” Herbosa added in another tweet.

Jimenez previously called out the Philippines for implementing barriers in physical classroom setups and emphasized that the virus is airborne. He included this practice under the “World #COVIDHallofShame of worst practices” against COVID-19.

“Extensive use of lateral plexiglas (perspex) barriers in schools. They INCREASE transmission,” he tweeted before.

“Trap virus-laden air (and) make ventilation more difficult,” Jimenez added.

READ: Philippines’ plastic barriers in schools named under ‘world #COVIDHallofShame’s worst practices’

A 2021 report from the New York Times said that plastic barriers “do little to stop the spread of the coronavirus” as it can disrupt normal ventilation and create “dead zones” where viral aerosol particles can build up and become concentrated.

Two government officials in the Philippines said that plastic barriers in classrooms are not required or needed.

The country also mandated the use of face shields for more than a year but it was already downgraded to voluntarily option under COVID-19 Alert Levels 1, 2, and 3. However, businesses may still require its use in their premises.