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April 7, 2021

How likely are you to catch Covid-19 from a surface? Here's what CDC now says.

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    The risk of contracting Covid-19 from contaminated surfaces or objects in non-hospital indoor settings, including homes and schools, is very low—and using soap or detergent, rather than disinfectant, is sufficient to reduce risk in most cases, according to updated guidance from CDC.

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    According to Yahoo! News, the United States early in the Covid-19 pandemic saw a surge in demand for heavy-duty disinfectants, driven at least partially by the belief that the novel coronavirus could be readily transmitted via contaminated surfaces.

    However, scientists since then have found that traces of the virus on contaminated surfaces are generally small and unlikely to result in the infection of others, Yahoo! News reports. In guidance updated on Monday, CDC officially recognizes that lower risk, advising people to focus instead on other prevention measures, such as wearing masks and regularly washing hands, and using disinfectant only in specific cases.

    According to The Hill, the updated guidance "is the strongest argument yet against what some critics have dubbed 'hygiene theatre,'" or the practice of strict sanitation protocols despite limited evidence suggesting such efforts alone are effective at preventing the spread of Covid-19. 

    Guidance details

    In the guidance, CDC acknowledges that while people can be infected with the novel coronavirus via surface contact, the available research indicates that "surface transmission is not the main route by which SARS-CoV-2 spreads, and the risk is considered to be low." According to the agency, the odds of getting infected via a contaminated surface or object is "generally less than 1 in 10,000."

    Moreover, CDC states that "[t]here is little scientific support for routine use of disinfectants in community settings, whether indoor or outdoor, to prevent SARS-CoV-2 transmission from [surfaces or objects]." As a result, CDC recommends using disinfectants "in indoor settings, schools, and homes" only when "there has been a suspected or confirmed case of Covid-19 within the last 24 hours," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said on Monday.

    The CDC guidance concluded that, "[i]n public spaces and community settings, available epidemiological data...indicate that the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission from [surfaces or objects] is low—compared with risks from direct contact, droplet transmission or airborne transmission." Accordingly, the agency said people can substantially reduce their risk of contracting Covid-19 via contaminated surfaces by wearing masks correctly and consistently, and washing their hands regularly (Weixel, The Hill, 4/5; Rummler, Axios, 4/5; Nazaryan, Yahoo! News, 3/5).

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