Post #766: Hygiene theater.

Posted on July 29, 2020

Source:  Washington Post.

I rarely ditto a news article, but this one, in the Atlantic, is well worth the read.  Cleaning/disinfecting surfaces, as a way to reduce COVID-19 transmission, is more-or-less a total waste of time.  Hospitals and other health care institutions need to do that.  Nobody else does.

This is one of those issues where a) the CDC flip-flopped its guidance, b) a lot of unhelpful and unrealistic research was published, and c) when the CDC flip-flopped its position, it worded things so vaguely that it took experts to figure out what the heck they were saying.

Its yet another example of a garbled message from the CDC.  Garbled and weasel-worded to the point where nobody outside of a few experts really understood what the CDC was trying to say.

I mentioned this in passing, back in Post #724 (6/20/2020), in the section titled:

Fomites are no longer considered a major threat

Fomites being inanimate objects that might have little droplets of infectious matter on them.

That change in CDC guidance is now more than a month old.  But it appears to have been almost completely ignored.  The gist of it is that you are extremely unlikely to catch COVID-19 by touching inanimate objects. It’s possible, but apparently it’s hugely unlikely in a community (non-hospital) setting.

Just how unlikely?  A scientist quoted in the Atlantic article said, emphasis mine:

“In the entire peer-reviewed COVID-19 literature, I’ve found maybe one truly plausible report, in Singapore, of fomite transmission. And even there, it is not a slam-dunk case. ”

Source:  Donald Schaffner, a food-microbiology professor who studies disease contamination at Rutgers University.   From The Atlantic.

The Atlantic article fills in a lot of the details, including an explanation from a qualified scientist as to why the original research on “how long the virus can remain on a surface” was misleading.  Among other things, some of that research used virus concentrations that were 100 times stronger than would ever occur in real life.  As they put it, you’d have to have 100 infected people line up and sneeze on the same door handle to achieve the virus concentrations used in the research.

To see why this garbled guidance matters, just consider what’s going to happen when schools re-open.  That’s laid out in the Atlantic article cited above.  Consider the effort and expense wasted on cleaning that could be spent on something more meaningful, such as providing teachers with high-quality masks.

Yes, you should still wash your hands.  It costs you nothing to do that.  And there is some very slight chance that you could pick up COVID-19 by touching something in a community (non-hospital) setting.  But the bottom line is that businesses and governments are wasting a lot of time and money on cleaning.  And it’s all for show.  It’s hygiene theater.