Sunday, April 18, 2021

Is disinfectant mania finally ending?

Has the Era of Overzealous Cleaning Finally Come to an End? New York Times - Emily Anthes: 

April 8, 2021 - "When the coronavirus began to spread in the United States last spring, many experts warned of the danger posed by surfaces. Researchers reported that the virus could survive for days on plastic or stainless steel, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [C.D.C.] advised that if someone touched one of these contaminated surfaces — and then touched their eyes, nose or mouth — they could become infected. Americans responded in kind, wiping down groceries, quarantining mail and clearing drugstore shelves of Clorox wipes. Facebook closed two of its offices for a 'deep cleaning.' New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority began disinfecting subway cars every night.

"But the era of 'hygiene theater' may have come to an unofficial end this week, when the C.D.C. updated its surface cleaning guidelines and noted that the risk of contracting the virus from touching a contaminated surface was less than 1 in 10,000. 'People can be affected with the virus that causes Covid-19 through contact with contaminated surfaces and objects,' Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the C.D.C., said at a White House briefing on Monday. 'However, evidence has demonstrated that the risk by this route of infection of transmission is actually low.'

"'Finally,' said Linsey Marr, an expert on airborne viruses at Virginia Tech. 'We’ve known this for a long time and yet people are still focusing so much on surface cleaning.' She added, 'There’s really no evidence that anyone has ever gotten Covid-19 by touching a contaminated surface'....

"'The scientific basis for all this concern about surfaces is very slim — slim to none,' said Emanuel Goldman, a microbiologist at Rutgers University, who wrote last summer that the risk of surface transmission had been overblown. 'This is a virus you get by breathing. It’s not a virus you get by touching'....

"'The most important part of this update is that they’re clearly communicating to the public the correct, low risk from surfaces, which is not a message that has been clearly communicated for the past year,' said Joseph Allen, a building safety expert at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Catching the virus from surfaces ... requires many things to go wrong: a lot of fresh, infectious viral particles to be deposited on a surface, and then for a relatively large quantity of them to be quickly transferred to someone’s hand and then to their face. 'Presence on a surface does not equal risk,' Dr. Allen said.

"In most cases, cleaning with simple soap and water — in addition to hand-washing and mask-wearing — is enough to keep the odds of surface transmission low, the C.D.C.’s updated cleaning guidelines say. In most everyday scenarios and environments, people do not need to use chemical disinfectants, the agency notes.... 'Disinfection is only recommended in indoor settings — schools and homes — where there has been a suspected or confirmed case of Covid-19 within the last 24 hours,' Dr. Walensky said during the White House briefing. 'Also, in most cases, fogging, fumigation and wide-area or electrostatic spraying is not recommended as a primary method of disinfection and has several safety risks to consider'... [T]he new cleaning guidelines do not apply to health care facilities, which may require more intensive cleaning and disinfection....

"'This should be the end of deep cleaning,” Dr. Allen said, noting that the misplaced focus on surfaces has had real costs. 'It has led to closed playgrounds, it has led to taking nets off basketball courts, it has led to quarantining books in the library. It has led to entire missed school days for deep cleaning. It has led to not being able to share a pencil. So that’s all that hygiene theater, and it’s a direct result of not properly classifying surface transmission as low risk.'"

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