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Touch wood! Risk of Covid-19 transmission via surfaces is less than 1 in 10,000, CDC says in new cleaning guidelines

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published the latest science brief on Monday, pointing out that “the relative risk of fomite transmission of SARS-CoV-2 is considered low compared with direct contact, droplet transmission, or airborne transmission.”

“Fomite” is medical terminology for surfaces or objects such as clothing or utensils that could pass on contagious particles. With so little known about the spread of the virus that causes Covid-19, stores and households have been obsessively disinfecting surfaces for months, and many people have even worn gloves, just to be sure. 

Now, however, the CDC is citing studies that “suggest that the risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection via the fomite transmission route is low, and generally less than 1 in 10,000” for each contact with a contaminated surface.

Transmission from contaminated surfaces is “difficult to prove definitively,” and the case reports to that effect indicate that people touched the surfaces that were “recently coughed or sneezed on, and then directly touching the mouth, nose, or eyes.” Washing one’s hands is a barrier to such transmission, the CDC said.

Surface-survival studies showed a 99% reduction in coronaviruses – including SARS-CoV-2 – on indoors stainless steel, plastic and glass within 72 hours, but the CDC noted these were “experimental conditions” that do not reflect all factors that could remove or degrade the virus, such as ventilation, viral load, or temperature changes.

In line with these findings, the CDC has updated its guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting households. Disinfectants should be used if someone positive for Coviid-19 was around within the last 24 hours, while simple cleaning procedures are fine for the 24-72 hours period, and “regular cleaning” is good enough after three days.

While gloves should be worn during cleaning and disinfection, the CDC has not recommended their routine use to handle surfaces since July 2020.

Back in February, the agency cited laboratory studies and simulations to advise Americans to wear two face masks – or at least ensure their face coverings are snug and tight, to prevent any droplets getting through. 

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