Eye protection to block pathogens may be necessary to fully prevent coronavirus infection, leading US infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci has said.
‘If you have goggles or an eye shield, you should use it,’ Dr Fauci told ABC News in an Instagram Live interview on Wednesday.
Coronavirus is primarily contagious through respiratory droplets expelled when people cough or sneeze, but growing evidence suggests that fine aerosols from just regular speaking or breathing may be able to spread the disease too.
Those particles can get into the eyes, too, although it’s not as dominant a route of infection.
Public health experts – perhaps most prominently Dr Fauci himself – have relentlessly advocated for universal mask-wearing, but struggled nonetheless to convince Americans to adopt face coverings.
The virus is still spreading rampantly in many US states, showing no sign of weakening, even as President Trump pushes for reopenings of businesses and schools, driving experts like Dr Fauci to encourage more – not less – protective gear.
In addition to wearing masks, one of the primary public health recommendations made by officials is that people wash their hands and avoid touching their faces.
That includes the eyes.
If viral particles end up on your hands, they will not infect you through your skin. But touching your nose, mouth or eyes, can introduce the virus to cells it can invade.
‘If you really want perfect protection [you need protection] of your mucosal surfaces – you mucosal surfaces in your mouth, your nose, but also in your eyes,’ said Dr Fauci.
Mucosal surfaces are any that are coated with types of cells that make mucus, a thick, slippery fluid that lines and protects certain parts of the body.
Mucus helps slough away pathogens like SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and contains immune cells, including B cells and antibodies.
But we don’t have natural antibodies to the new and unfamiliar SARS-CoV-2, so mucus has less power to neutralize the virus.
And the tissues that mucus covers are necessarily permeable to allow their functions, including mucus secretion as well to facilitate their sensory functions, such as breathing through the nose, and sight via the eyes.
So when mucus fails, viruses are left with an easy entry point to the interior of the body where they are safe to hijack the energy production of our cells and replicate.
Doctors have noted presence of coronavirus in the eyes. In fact, red or pink eyes became a recognizable sign of the infection as the pandemic spread earlier this year.
That tipped doctors and scientists off to the ability of coronavirus to infect eyes via our natural tears.
‘Theoretically, you should protect all the mucosal surfaces, so if you have goggles or an eye shield, you should use it,’ said Dr Fauci.
He noted that it’s not an official or universal recommendation, but that protecting your eyes denies the virus one more opportunity to infect you.
Dr Fauci also discussed the role of aerosols – a fine mist that can linger and travel further through the air – in coronavirus transmission.
‘We don’t know the relative role of aerosol [transmission]…we can assume it plays a role,’ he said.
Particles so tiny will likely be able to get through face coverings short of a perfectly sealed N95 mask. But, so far, they don’t appear to be the primary cause of infections.
‘It does not mean that we should not adhere to universal mask-wearing,’ Dr Fauci said adamantly.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Wednesday night on the House floor that masks must be worn in the chamber from now on and rulebreakers would be kicked out by the sergeant at arms.
‘Members and staff will be required to wear masks at all times in the Hall of the House except that members may remove their masks temporarily when recognized,’ Pelosi announced, using the official term for the House chamber.
Pelosi is putting in place stricter rules after Rep. Louis Gohmert, a Texas Republican, tested positive for the coronavirus, which prompted at least one high-ranking government official, Attorney General Bill Barr, to get tested as he might have been exposed.
The California Democrat said members won’t be allowed to enter the House chamber sans masks. ‘Masks will be available at the entrypoints for any member who forgets to bring one,’ she also said.
Politico broke the story and reported Wednesday morning that Gohmert had tested positive at the White House during pre-screening for a planned trip to Texas with President Donald Trump.
Gohmert regularly refused to wear a mask and was spotted Tuesday roaming around the Capitol’s hallways and in the Judiciary Committee hearing room before Barr testified without a mask on his face.
On Wednesday afternoon, Johns Hopkins University confirmed that 150,034 Americans have now died from the highly contagious virus, with more than half a dozen states clocking their highest daily number of fatalities in the past 24 hours.
American citizens now account for almost a quarter of the 662,577 coronavirus deaths recorded worldwide.
No other country comes close to reporting as many coronavirus deaths as the US. Brazil has seen 88,539 deaths, while the United Kingdom has clocked 46,046 fatalities.
Italy and Spain – which were both hit hard by the coronavirus in April and May – have reported less than 36,000 deaths respectively after their fatality rates sharply declined in the wake of strict stay-at-home orders.
It’s a different case in the United States, where the death rate continues to soar, despite the country stretching into its fifth month battling the pandemic.
Fatalities have increased by more than 10,000 since July 17, which marks the fastest increase in deaths since the US went from 100,000 to 110,000 fatal cases over 11 days in early June.
On Tuesday, seven states – Florida, California, Texas, North Carolina, Arkansas, Oregon and Montana – all reported a record spike in their fatalities.
Texas leads the nation with nearly 4,000 deaths so far this month, followed by Florida with 2,690 and California with 2,500.
While deaths have rapidly risen in July in these three states, New York and New Jersey still lead the nation in total lives lost and for deaths per capita.
Even though deaths are rising across the US, they remain well below levels seen in April when an average of 2,000 people a day were dying from the virus.
Health experts have indicated the death toll may not be as bad this time around possibly because a large share of the current cases are younger people, who are less likely to die, and because of advances in treatment and knowledge of the virus.
Deaths are a lagging indicator and can continue to rise weeks after new infections drop. A coronavirus death, when it occurs, typically comes several weeks after a person is first infected.
Meanwhile, Texas – the second-most populous state – added more than 6,000 new cases on Monday, pushing its total to 401,477.
Only three other states – California, Florida and New York – have more than 400,000 total cases.