He helped Covid kill the Small Scientific Roof
Epidemiologists have long seen that most respiratory insects need a close relationship to spread. However, in this small space, a lot can happen. A sick person may cough drops into your face, emit small aerosols that you breathe, or shake your hand so you can rub your nose. Any of these mechanisms can transmit the virus. “Technically, it’s very difficult to differentiate and see what causes the infection,” Mar says. In long-distance infections, only the smallest particles can be to blame. Up close, however, particles of all sizes were at stake. However, over the decades, drops were blamed as the main culprit.
Marr decided to collect some of his data. Installed in places like surveillance and aircraft to measure air samples, he often found the flu virus, where it shouldn’t be said in textbooks, hidden in the air, mostly in small particles long enough to stay there for hours. And it was enough to make people sick.
In 2011, it should be important news. At times, major medical journals rejected his manuscript. He was infecting people with aerosols while conducting new experiments that proved the idea, the only publishing niche, Journal of the Royal Society Interface, he constantly captured his work. In the silent world of academia, aerosols have always been the field of engineers and physicists, and pathogens are a purely medical concern; Marr was one of the few people who tried to overcome the division. “I was definitely a fringe,” she says.
Thinking that he could help overcome that resistance, he would occasionally try to guess where the 5-micron flawed image came from. But he was always stuck. Medical textbooks stated it as a fact, without mention, as if it were coming out of the air itself. Eventually he got tired of trying, research and life progressed and the 5 micron mystery disappeared into the background. Until December 2019, that is, until a paper crossed the table from the Yuguo Li laboratory.
An air researcher at the University of Hong Kong, Li took his name from his first SARS outbreak in 2003. An investigation into an appearance in the Amoy Gardens apartment complex showed that the coronavirus may have been the strongest force in the air. Meanwhile he also struggled for decades to convince the public health community that the risk calculation was off. In the end, he decided to work on math. Li’s elegant simulations showed that when a person coughed or sneezed, there were few heavy drops and the targets — open mouth, nostrils, eyes — were too small to tell many infections. Li’s team concluded that the public health establishment was backward and that most colds, flu and respiratory diseases should be spread through aerosols instead.
Their findings revealed a fallacy of the 5 micron limit. And they went one step further, following a decade-long document released by the CDC for hospitals. Marr couldn’t feel the excitement. A magazine asked her to review Li’s role, and she didn’t hide her feelings when she sketched out her answer. He wrote on January 22, 2020: “This work is very important in tackling the existing dogma on how infectious diseases are transmitted in drops and aerosols.”
While writing his note, the conclusions of Li’s work were far from theoretical. Hours later, Chinese government officials interrupted any trip to and from the city of Wuhan, trying to burn an as-yet-unnamed respiratory disease through 11 million megalopolises. As the pandemic spread from country to country, the WHO and the CDC told people to wash their hands, wash their skins and maintain social distance. They said nothing about the dangers of masks or being inside the house.