Morning Edition – At the start of the pandemic, stores quickly sold out of disinfectant sprays and wipes.
People were advised to wipe down their packages and the cans they bought at the grocery store.
But scientists have learned a lot this year about the coronavirus and how it’s transmitted, and it turns out all that scrubbing and disinfecting might not be necessary.
If a person infected with the coronavirus sneezes, coughs or talks loudly, droplets containing particles of the virus can travel through the air and eventually land on nearby surfaces.
But the risk of getting infected from touching a surface contaminated by the virus is low, says Emanuel Goldman, a microbiologist at Rutgers University.
“In hospitals, surfaces have been tested near COVID-19 patients, and no infectious virus can be identified,” Goldman says.
What’s found is viral RNA, which is like “the corpse of the virus,” he says. That’s what’s left over after the virus dies.
“They don’t find infectious virus, and that’s because the virus is very fragile in the environment — it decays very quickly,” Goldman says.
Back in January and February, scientists and public health officials thought surface contamination was a problem. In fact, early studies suggested the virus could live on surfaces for days.
It was assumed transmission occurred when an infected person sneezed or coughed on a nearby surface and “you would get the disease by touching those surfaces and then transferring the virus into your eyes, nose or mouth,” says Linsey Marr, an engineering professor at Virginia Tech who studies airborne transmission of infectious disease.
So people were advised to clean common areas with disinfectant, wipe down cans and boxes from the grocery store and even wear gloves.
In retrospect, Marr says that was “overkill” …
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