- Crystal Cox/Business Insider
- In updated language on its website, the CDC emphasized that the coronavirus spreads easily between people but not easily in other ways, such as on surfaces.
- The newly-formatted advice, drawing attention to this detail, is confusing in light of eye-catching simulations, past research, and expert guidance on how to disinfect surfaces.
- Overall, though, the science has been consistent on how the disease spreads: through close, prolonged contact with people.
- While you should still disinfect high-touch surfaces regularly just in case, it’s more important to wash your hands and avoid touching your face.
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If you’ve been obsessively wiping down doorknobs, groceries, packages, and keyboards to protect yourself from the novel coronavirus, you might be able to lighten up: The virus “does not spread easily” that way, according to newly revised guidance on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
It also doesn’t spread easily from people to animals, or from animals to people, the website says.
Rather, as experts have long emphasized, the virus spreads easily between people who are within about six feet of each other. Specifically, when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks, respiratory droplets can be inhaled by someone nearby and potentially get them sick.
“The virus that causes COVID-19 is spreading very easily and sustainably between people,” the website says. “Information from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic suggest that this virus is spreading more efficiently than influenza, but not as efficiently as measles, which is highly contagious.”
While this information isn’t new, the website’s new formatting calls more attention to how the disease isn’t likely to spread. That’s confusing in light of catchy simulations, past research showing how long the virus can live on surfaces, and expert guidance on how to disinfect various objects.
Plus, the CDC still recommends people “routinely clean and disinfect” high-touch surfaces since it still may be possible, however unlikely, to contract COVID-19 through them.
“It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes,” the website says. “This is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads, but we are still learning more about this virus.”
- Crystal Cox/Business Insider
Washing your hands is more important than disinfecting surfaces, but doing both can’t hurt
Most important, as always, when it comes to protecting yourself from the coronavirus is avoiding close, prolonged contact with people you don’t live with. If you may come into such a situation, it’s better to be outside and to wear a mask.
Cleaning surfaces is a lower-priority precaution you can take. To do it properly, it’s important to use a product that would kill enough of the virus to prevent disease, Rachel Graham, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina, previously told Business Insider’s Aylin Woodward.
“Most commercial products labeled ‘disinfectants’ talk about a 99.9% kill rate,” she said, which would bring the potential infectious dose of the virus low enough to keep you safe.
She said smooth, nonporous surfaces like doorknobs and tabletops are better at carrying viruses than porous surfaces like money, hair, and cloth.
The best way, though, to prevent contracting the coronavirus from surfaces, if that’s even possible, is to frequently and thoroughly wash your hands and avoid touching your face.
“Of course,” Woodward writes, “the coronavirus can’t infect you through your hands, so if you never touch your eyes, nose, mouth, you can avoid infection.”