CDC: Chance of surface transmission of virus not what we thought

Back in the early days of the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a flurry of warnings about the many steps Americans needed to be taking to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus and “flatten the curve.” The travel restrictions and face masks, along with the shutdown of the economy, drew most of the media attention. But there was also a keen focus on all of the extra cleaning we would need to be doing. Studies were launched to determine how long the virus could survive on various surfaces and what measures would be required to prevent us from catching the frightening disease by touching everything from doorknobs to paper money. Grocery store shelves holding Purell and other sanitizers were quickly emptied. It was yet another aspect of our daily lives that had been completely disrupted.

Now, more than a year later, the CDC has “revised” their estimates on this subject and altered their guidelines accordingly. As it turns out, the chances of catching COVID by touching a potentially infected surface are “low.” How low? We’ll get to that in a moment. Oh, and the steps required to keep surfaces free of the virus aren’t what we were originally told either. (NY Post)

There is not a significant risk of catching the coronavirus from an infected surface or object, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a coronavirus guidance update on Monday.

People generally catch COVID-19 through direct contact with a sick person or droplet or airborne transmission, the nation’s top health agency said.

“It is possible for people to be infected through contact with contaminated surfaces or objects (fomites), but the risk is generally considered to be low,” the revised guidance states.

You can read the updated guidance at the CDC website.

While noting that it’s still “possible” to catch COVID by touching a surface that was recently sneezed or coughed on by an infected person and then quickly touching your mouth, nose, or eyes, they consider it unlikely. How unlikely? They rate the chances at 1 in 10,000. I don’t know about you, but those sound like fairly long odds to me.

Oh, and we should also talk about all of that sanitizer we’ve been using to wipe down surfaces and wash our hands. The new CDC guidelines inform us that “simple cleaning agents appear to be effective against the virus, and disinfectants aren’t necessary for most situations.” The guidelines now state that there is “little scientific support for routine use of disinfectants in community settings.” Cleaning with normal soap or detergent is considered effective.

The impact that the original guidelines had on the country was quite significant. A large number of distilleries shut down their operations entirely and switched over to producing sanitizer in a heroic effort to answer the call of duty. People were hoarding Purell and trying to sell it on the black market for a profit.

The misguided belief that all of this was necessary led to business opportunities for some people. I still recall an interview I watched on our local news channel with two women who had set up a home cleaning company last spring. They began running clever advertisements showing them coming into people’s homes wearing masks and gloves. People were shown touching various surfaces such as keyboards, doorknobs, and light switches, which would begin glowing with a sickly green light. The cleaners would then wipe the surfaces down with their seemingly magical disinfectants and the CGI contagion would disappear. Within a few weeks they reported having so many new customers that they had to hire more help. Many were people who would never have considered hiring someone to do their housecleaning for them prior to the arrival of the plague. When a reporter asked the women about their background in disease control and related subjects, they admitted that they had no training and were just using “common sense.”

And now, barely a year later, we learn that we could all have just kept on with the same cleaning routines nearly everyone had been using for ages. I’m not saying it’s a bad idea to clean your home and office regularly, but that was true before the pandemic started. The same common-sense cleaning procedures and products we’d all been using would have been fine. Better late than never, I suppose, but it certainly sounds like a lot of time, money and effort were poured into a process that hadn’t been subjected to serious, scientific scrutiny before the nation was sent stampeding into a panic.