Remember a year ago when we were all obsessively cleaning countertops and wiping down our groceries because we were worried about the surface transmission of Covid-19? How far we have come—thankfully. While the pandemic is in no way over, and there are still so many unanswered questions about the Coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has provided one important update. The risk of surface transmission of Covid-19 is low, and those who are still disinfecting with harsh chemicals may be doing more harm than good. But let's break that down, shall we?
One of the hardest parts of the last year has been navigating conflicting information, but if we've learned anything from this pandemic, it's that we're discovering new ways to fight Covid-19 on what seems like a daily basis.
During the CDC briefing, Vincent Hill, Chief of the Waterborne Disease Prevention Branch, said, "In most situations, cleaning surfaces using soap or detergent, and not disinfecting, is enough to reduce the already low risk of virus transmission through surfaces," Hill said. "Disinfecting surfaces is typically not necessary, unless a sick person or someone positive for Covid-19 has been in the home within the last 24 hours." In that situation, Hill said cleaning should be focused on high-contact areas like doorknobs and light switches.
Hill also warned against "hygiene theater," which is the notion of "putting on a show" to clean and disinfect, which may give people a false sense of security that they are protecting themselves from the virus when other preventative measures like wearing masks, physical distancing and hand hygiene are not being consistently performed. Additionally, Hill cited CDC research from June of 2020 showing that, of those people surveyed, "only 58% knew that bleach should not be mixed with ammonia, because mixing bleach and ammonia creates a toxic gas that harms people's lungs."
Bleach is a serious chemical, and Hill pointed to surveillance data which shows the volume of calls to poison centers in 2020 for disinfectants was higher than in either 2018 or 2019.
In a nutshell, while the CDC says keeping surfaces clean is not a waste of time, there's no need to go overboard with disinfectants. The very latest CDC cleaning guidelines can be found here.