Coronavirus does not spread easily from surfaces, clarifies The Centers for Disease Control

calendar iconJun 5, 2020

In May, an update on The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website repeated one of the main messages from medical experts about the ongoing pandemic, that coronavirus spreads primarily from person to person, but does not spread easily from contaminated surfaces.

The reminder is welcome since fake news about coronavirus spreading through surfaces, such as cash, are still circulating the web and exploited to push cashless policies. To some, the belated update roused suspicions, to others, it eased fears about handling groceries, money and doors.

CDC spokesperson Benjamin Haynes said, "Improvements were made to the COVID-19 transmission page including adding a headline to clarify other types of spread beyond person to person, as a result of usability improvements," in an interview with Axios. He and other CDC spokespersons have also emphasized that this is not a deviation from their original message."

“Our transmission language has not changed [...] Covid-19 spreads mainly through close contact from person to person.”
"Kristen NordlundCDC SpokespersonAs quoted by Washington Post (May 21, 2020)

Washington Post (May 21, 2020)

But the previous version of the website, archived May 1, includes the same statement about surfaces as the current version: “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. This is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads, but we are still learning more about this virus.”

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New York Times (May 22, 2020)

"The virus spreads mainly from person to person, rather than via contaminated surfaces, according to the C.D.C. For those who were worried about wiping down grocery bags or disinfecting mailed packages, the news headlines highlighting this guidance in recent days might have brought some relief.

But this information is not new: The C.D.C. has been using similar language for months. If anything, the headlines have pulled into sharper focus what we already know about the virus."

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“Many people were concerned that by simply touching an object they may get coronavirus, and that’s simply not the case. Even when a virus may stay on a surface, it doesn’t mean that it’s actually infectious,”

According to a study in The New England Journal of Medicine, the virus can last on surfaces from hours to days, depending on the material but that doesn't mean that it is spreading this way. Dr. René Gottschalk, Head of the Health Department in Germany explains, “In principle, it is entirely irrelevant how long pathogens can survive on surfaces. What is decisive is whether it is an infection channel.” Dr. Christine Tait-Burkard, expert in infection and immunity at the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh said earlier this year that the risk of contracting the virus is very small "unless someone is using a bank note to sneeze in; [and] coins are actually very bad environments for viruses to survive.” Prompted by a sense that clear messaging from authorities was lacking, the CDC's website update attempts makes this clear, if it wasn't already.

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"To become infected with COVID-19, the virus must come in contact with your respiratory tract, most commonly, through your mouth or nose."
"Dr. Catherine O'NealInfectious Disease Specialist
Last Updated: Jun 7, 2020

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