The Truth About Disinfecting Surfaces During The Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a lot of people taking a closer look at their hygiene habits than usual. Many have not just upped how often they wash their hands but have also taken to disinfecting other things like surfaces, mail, and even groceries.

As the pandemic has continued, researchers have learned a lot more about how the virus is being transmitted. While a lot of experts earlier in the pandemic were telling people to wipe down pretty much everything, it's now looking like being so meticulous isn't strictly necessary.

According to Emanuel Goldman, a microbiologist at Rutgers University, while you can contract COVID-19 from touching a surface contaminated with the virus, it's pretty unlikely. The virus is spread when an infected person sneezes, coughs, or even speaks loudly, releasing droplets carrying particles of the virus. These droplets then travel through the air.

COVID-19 doesn't last very long on surfaces

"In hospitals, surfaces have been tested near COVID-19 patients, and no infectious virus can be identified," Goldman told NPR. While viral RNA has been found, Goldman likened this to "the corpse of the virus" which is not infectious. "They don't find infectious virus, and that's because the virus is very fragile in the environment — it decays very quickly," he explained.

Dr. Kevin Fennelly, a respiratory infection specialist with the National Institutes of Health, told NPR that disinfecting surfaces is unnecessary considering what we now know about the virus. "When you see people doing spray disinfection of streets and sidewalks and walls and subways, I just don't know of any data that supports the fact that we're getting infected from viruses that are jumping up from the sidewalk."

While it might not be necessary to regularly disinfect surfaces, COVID-19 is still a threat. It's still important to wash your hands, wear a face mask, and maintain social distancing. "If we can hang together as a country and do these kinds of things to blunt these surges until we get a substantial portion of the population vaccinated, we can get through this," White House Coronavirus Task Force member Dr. Anthony Fauci told NBC's Meet the Press.