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Explained: With a ‘1-in-10,000 chance’, can we stop worrying about getting Covid-19 from surfaces?

CDC says while it is possible for people to be infected with the novel coronavirus via surface contact, research shows that the risk is considered low as “surface transmission is not the main route by which SARS-CoV-2 spreads”.

CDC’s latest update could bring an end to the act of routinely deep cleaning hotel rooms, offices, schools, restaurants and public transport to prevent the spread of coronavirus. (Representational image/File)

The risk of contracting coronavirus by touching a contaminated surface or object is “low”, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Monday, updating its guidelines on cleaning and disinfecting everyday household surfaces. According to the CDC, there is a less than 1-in-10,000 chance of contracting Covid-19 from surfaces.

The CDC’s latest update could bring an end to what many are referring to as ‘hygiene theatre’, or the act of routinely deep cleaning hotel rooms, offices, schools, restaurants and public transport to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

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“People can be affected with the virus that causes Covid-19 through contact with contaminated surfaces and objects,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said at a White House briefing on Monday. “However, evidence has demonstrated that the risk by this route of infection of transmission is actually low.”

What has the CDC said in its updated guidelines?

In its updated guidelines, the CDC says while it is possible for people to be infected with the novel coronavirus via surface contact, research shows that the risk is considered low as “surface transmission is not the main route by which SARS-CoV-2 spreads”. The respiratory virus is far more likely to spread through direct contact, droplets, or airborne transmission, the American health agency said.

In its latest brief, the CDC said intense cleaning was required only in a few scenarios. In most regular day-to-day settings, cleaning surfaces with soap and detergent is sufficient to reduce the risk of transmission, according to the agency.

The agency cited studies by the American Journal of Infection Control and Environmental Science & Technology Letters conducted over the last year. As per the studies, transmission of Covid through surfaces is less likely outdoors than it is indoors.

How long can SARS-CoV-2 survive on different surfaces?

According to the CDC’s latest brief, SARS-CoV-2 is known to survive on a number of different porous and non porous surfaces for varying durations of time. Studies report inability to detect viable virus within minutes to hours on porous surfaces, while on non-porous surfaces, viable virus can be detected for days to weeks.

The surface survival of Covid-19 on commonly found indoor surfaces such as glass, steel or plastic does not last more than three days, CDC said. The agency added that there is “little scientific support for routine use of disinfectants” in both indoor and outdoor community settings “to prevent SARS-CoV-2 transmission” from surfaces.

Then, how does the CDC recommend cleaning surfaces?

The CDC specified one non-hospital environment where deep cleaning would be appropriate — an indoor environment where an individual has tested positive for Covid within the last 24 hours. Otherwise, wiping down surfaces with soap and detergent is enough, the CDC said.

“Routine cleaning performed effectively with soap or detergent, at least once per day, can substantially reduce virus levels on surfaces,” the agency said at a White House briefing. Surface transmission can also be reduced by wearing face masks regularly and correctly.

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What was the CDC’s previous take on transmission via contaminated surfaces?

When the coronavirus pandemic first gripped the world last year, several experts warned that the infection could spread via surfaces. Early research suggested that the virus could survive on surfaces like plastic or steel for days, prompting the CDC to issue a warning. The agency said that touching contaminated surfaces and then touching your face, eyes or mouth could lead to the spread of Covid-19.

Soon after, shelves in grocery stores across the US were wiped clean of cleaning products. Several offices and public transport were evenshut down for ‘deep cleaning’.

In May last year, the CDC clarified that surface transmission was the not main way that the virus spreads. But it still recommended disinfecting “frequently touched surfaces”. Now it has suggested less deep cleaning.

Several scientists and researchers have been urging the CDC to update its guidelines, arguing that the resources spent to deep clean indoor and outdoor surfaces could be better invested in enforcing mask wearing and other Covid protocol.

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