All that constant scrubbing, soaping, and sanitizing?
It can stop now.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its safety guidelines this week, recommending that cleaning once a day is usually enough to maintain a healthy facility.
Routine use of disinfectants to fight COVID-19 virus is unnecessary when no people with confirmed or suspected cases are known to have been in a space, it says.
Calling deep cleaning “a distraction,” public health experts welcomed the news, saying there is little evidence that contaminated surfaces spread the virus. A much greater threat, they add, is the exhaled breath of infected people.
“This virus largely spreads through the air, not via surfaces,” said Dr. Ashish K. Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, on Twitter.
“Do basic hand hygiene, absolutely,” he said. “But focus on masks, ventilation and keeping air safe.”
For over a year, we’ve shared a collective sense of paranoia – dubbed “hygiene theater” — about touching ATMs, grocery bags and even the day’s delivered mail.
In shared public places, at great expense, workers diligently spray sanitizer, wipe down surfaces and take other precautions. By the end of 2020, global sales of surface disinfectant totaled $4.5 billion, a jump of more than 30% over the previous year, according to the journal Nature. The New York Metropolitan Transit Authority, which oversees subways and buses, spent $484 million last year in its response to COVID-19, including enhanced cleaning and sanitization, it reported.
We’re also fastidious at home, scrubbing our hands like Lady Macbeth.
But as evidence has accumulated over the course of the pandemic, our scientific understanding about transmission of the virus has changed. In July, a critique in the medical journal Lancet Infectious Diseases asserted that the risk of COVID-19 transmission by “fomites” — inanimate surfaces or objects — had been based on studies that bear little resemblance to real life.
To be sure, the virus that causes COVID-19 can land on surfaces, according to the CDC. It’s possible for people to become infected if they touch those surfaces and then touch their nose, mouth, or eyes.
But in most situations, “the risk of infection from touching a surface is low,” it said.
There are exceptions, it adds. Frequent cleaning or disinfection is appropriate in shared spaces if there are high rates of COVID-19 transmission in the community, if few people wear masks or clean their hands or if the space is occupied by people who are at risk of severe disease if they got infected.
In that case, clean “high-touch” surfaces — pens, counters, shopping carts, tables, doorknobs, light switches, handles, stair rails, elevator buttons, desks, keyboards, phones, toilets, faucets, and sinks — at least once a day, it advised.
“Infections are not primarily driven by droplets, but by aerosols,” said Jha. “That has huge implications for how we keep people safe, especially in indoor settings.”
Read the CDC’s updated guidelines at: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/disinfecting-building-facility.html.