By Conn Maciel Carey’s COVID-19 Task Force
Early in the pandemic, popular sentiment—and to a lesser extent, the scientific community—believed that surface transmission of COVID-19 was one of the primary vectors of transmission. Over time, however, epidemiologists gained a better understanding of how the virus was most typically transmitted. As a result, the CDC’s guidance evolved to a point where surface transmission was viewed as a less significant mode of transmission than person-to-person transmission.
Throughout all that, spring cleaning took on a new meaning in 2020, as people rushed to purchase all the disinfectant wipes and sprays they could find, wiping down groceries and mail, sanitizing their hands, and treating door handles like they were radioactive. Workplace sanitation similarly became an area of emphasis as employers distributed wipes, sprays and pump bottles throughout their facilities, hired additional janitorial staff and, in many cases, spent exorbitant sums on third-party vendors to clean and disinfect the workplace, even introducing aggressive surface cleaning techniques like fogging. And once the hygiene frenzy took hold in the workplace, there has been little reprieve for employers from regulatory bodies. State and local health departments, federal OSHA and State OSH Plans, and even some state legislatures, recommended or imposed strict sanitization protocols, including requirements to routinely wipe down shared surfaces with disinfectant, to close workplaces for deep cleaning even when days had passed since a COVID-positive individual had been in the area, and implement daily cleaning and disinfecting plans. The financial cost for employers associated with these requirements rose quickly. Like pre-shift temperature screens, some of these requirements have persisted even after the science has recognized their limited efficacy.
Earlier this week, more than a year after the COVID-19 pandemic began, the CDC has released new guidance clarifying that the risk of contracting COVID-19 from contaminated surfaces is, in fact, quite low. Citing several studies evaluating surface transmission, the CDC indicated that the risk of infection through contaminated surfaces is generally less than 1 in 10,000.
The scientific data regarding the very low risk posed by surface contamination is welcome news. The CDC studies evaluated the effectiveness of prevention measures intended to reduce the risk of surface transmission and found that surface disinfection once or twice-per-day had little impact on reducing risk. The CDC explained that when accounting for both surface survival data and real-world transmission factors, the risk of surface transmission after a person with COVID-19 has been in an indoor space is minor after 3 days (72 hours), regardless of when it was last cleaned. Continue reading