A wise man once said, “As water shapes itself to the vessel that contains it, a wise man should adapt himself to circumstances”. I’m certainly not as wise as Confucius, but I do believe if we have learned one thing since early March when COVID-19 hit North America, it’s that you never know what to expect during a Pandemic. Like water carves its path down a riverbank, COVID-19 has been carving its path through out the world, leaving no clue as to which way it will turn next.
When COVID-19 arrived on the scene, as a respiratory virus we knew that direct contact with respiratory droplets and touching contaminated surfaces could be potential routes of transmission. Given that other respiratory infections can be spread via touching contaminated surfaces and then touching your face (mouth, nose, eyes), panic and anxiety set in as the public switched into high gear, hoarding cleaning and disinfectant products and creating all sorts of protocols on how to safely bring your groceries into the house. The concern with touching surfaces increased after a study was published highlighting the fact that the SARS-CoV-2 virus can live on surfaces for up to 3 days and on cardboard for up to 24 hours.
As a new virus, there is much we have to learn. However, according to the CDC, while COVID-19 is spreading very easily and sustainably between people, transmission from contaminated surfaces or objects does not appear to be a main way the virus spreads. While the study referenced above confirmed the ability of the coronavirus to survive on surfaces, it does not support its ability to spread easily from contaminated surfaces to people. In short, studies looking at ability to survive have zero relevance to the transmissibility and impact on prolonging the epidemic. Out of an abundance of caution, to ensure infection prevention principles were being put in place, frequently cleaning surfaces and washing hands became the norm whenever discussing COVID-19.
As we round another curve in our COVID-19 journey, the CDC are trying to let the public know that surfaces are not the primary area the public should be concerned with. Our focus should be on social distancing, respiratory etiquette, and hand hygiene. Healthcare institutions will not reduce their focus on the environment as we know COVID-19 is not the only pathogen they are dealing with. Their vigilance on surfaces needs to remain high at all times.
As we go into the weekend, if you are bracing yourself for your next trip to the grocery store, have piece of mind that your primary focus needs to be on social distancing and hand hygiene. You can never wash your hands too much. When I shop, I sanitize going into the store, leaving the store, after I put my groceries in to my car and when I get home.