In a surprise move, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stated surface contact is not the main way the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 spreads.
The information caused confusion because agencies such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) said weeks earlier the virus could live up to 24 hours on cardboard surfaces and as long as three days on other materials. Store staff and members of the public began a campaign of sanitizing surfaces with bleach.
“Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe,” the NIH website stated March 17.
On May 11, with no public announcement, the CDC website stated that COVID-19 “does not spread easily from touching surfaces” under the headline “spread from contact with contaminated surfaces or objects.”
The media picked up on the wording, which prompted the FDA to dial it back on May 22, stating the change “was intended to make it easier to read, and was not a result of any new science.”
Such confusion shows the need for more calm and common sense in government agencies’ messaging, says Marilyn Singleton, M.D., J.D.
“The new CDC information is a far cry from the scary news blasts that the coronavirus can last up to nine days on surfaces and tutorials on the hours-long process of disinfecting our homes, food, and phones,” said Singleton. “Where was this advice during the last [2018-2019] flu season when millions were infected and over 61,000 died? People shopped without giving a second thought to contracting the flu.”
Singleton says when the dust settles from the pandemic scare, a single, commonplace action will prove to be the best way to reduce the chance of illness.
“The advice for staying healthy [is] time-tested and the simplest: wash your hands and don’t touch your face,” Singleton said.