Disinfecting surfaces amid coronavirus: Should we still be doing this?


While the onset of the pandemic saw many wipe down groceries and hesitate to handle mail, science has since confirmed that the novel coronavirus spreads mainly through air droplets and close contact with infected persons. However, experts say disinfection efforts coupled with mask wearing, social distancing, vaccination and ventilation still offers the best protection against the virus.

“We know that COVID-19 is primarily transmitted through respiratory droplets,” Dr. Frank Esper, pediatric infectious disease specialist at Cleveland Clinic Children’s, told Fox News. “It is also possible for a person to get the virus from touching a contaminated source, and then touching their face (mouth, nose or eyes). However, we don’t have definitive evidence to show that this is a major route of transmission. Still, as this virus continues to evolve and variants become more transmissible, this route might become more common.”  

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Research has shown that the SARS-CoV-2 virus can remain infectious on surfaces “up to days,” varying depending on the material.

“The virus can survive on glass for 5 days, wood for 4 days, plastic for 3 days, cardboard for 24 hours and copper surfaces for 4 hours,” Esper wrote in an email. “This duration can be lessened with disinfection, sunlight and temperature.”

Research shows the virus can remain on certain surfaces for up to days. (iStock)

Experts advise cleaning “high-touch surfaces” like door knobs, sinks, elevator buttons on a daily basis. Treat dirty surfaces with soap and water first and then use EPA-approved disinfectants. Keep sanitizing wipes and hand sanitizer in high-traffic areas like entrances, bathrooms and common areas, Esper said.

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Still, infectious disease experts say the greatest infection risk is unmasked close contact.

 “While disinfection of surfaces in schools and other settings can help reduce other infections such as food borne infections, the most important measure to control COVID-19 remains physical distancing, masking and good ventilation,” said Dr. Priya Sampathkumar, an infectious diseases specialist at Mayo Clinic. “Cleaning won’t hurt but is not going to help without the other measures in place.”

Another expert, Neysa Ernst, nurse manager of the biocontainment unit at Johns Hopkins Medicine, said “masking, social distancing, hand hygiene and vaccination are the four pillars of infection prevention.”

Amid the Biden administration’s push for in-person instruction, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidance to help inform the reopening process, which includes cleaning and disinfection among five “key mitigation strategies” like universal, correct mask use, physical distancing, hand hygiene and contact tracing with health departments. 

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“Regardless of the level of community transmission, it is critical that schools use and layer mitigation strategies,” the CDC notes.

These so-called “layered strategies” offer “the greatest level of protection,” though top priorities should go to universal, correct masking and physical distancing, the health agency advised.



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