After a year of intimidating people into washing every inanimate object they own, the CDC finally said today what most of us had surmised — sterilizing these objects does not help prevent COVID-19.
In an announcement coyly entitled “Science Brief: SARS-CoV-2 and Surface (Fomite) Transmission for Indoor Community Environments” the CDC admitted what most of us already knew. “The principal mode by which people are infected with SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) is through exposure to respiratory droplets carrying infectious virus. It is possible for people to be infected through contact with contaminated surfaces or objects (fomites), but the risk is generally considered to be low.” You think?!
This is a respiratory virus, so it should have been obvious that it was transmitted through the air as respiratory droplets and not on surfaces. However, a year ago the CDC was telling us not to wear masks and encouraging everyone to sterilize surfaces ranging from groceries to kitchen floors!
We were bombarded with studies about the “survival” of SARS-CoV-2 on surfaces, usually under extremely controlled laboratory conditions. But none of these studies pointed out that the amount of virus on surfaces was unlikely to infect anyone.
More importantly, telling people to expend incredible effort on something that does them no good and does not prevent transmission of the infection kept people from doing the thing that they needed to do. This is wearing masks and avoiding respiratory situations especially inside, where aerosols could transmit the virus to many people.
These types of ridiculous recommendations also undermined the credibility of the public health leadership in the United States, a problem we are still addressing. The CDC in particular had numerous missteps in the early days of the pandemic including a useless clinical testing organization and technical problems that delayed testing at a crucial time for over six weeks. Encouraging people to sterilize their groceries was less damaging than the testing shortcomings, but still problematic.
My favorite recommendations were those from public health experts urging people to avoid contact with outside objects, like flagsticks on golf courses. This is the one place where ultraviolet light and wind probably play a significant role in killing virus on surfaces and preventing spread. Again, the amount of virus on any of these objects was unlikely to cause an infection.
Please forget all the other noise. Wear a mask and wash your hands, especially after touching your mouth (something we all do). The most important thing, however, is to get vaccinated!