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Risk of Spreading COVID-19 on Surfaces is Low, CDC Says


About a year ago, millions flocked to their closest grocery or convenience store in a hurry to buy up bottles of disinfectant, cleaning wipes and supplies, and – oddly enough – toilet paper. As news began to spread that COVID-19 could live on surfaces and be easily spread by touching common-area spots, such as doorknobs and countertops, disinfectant cleaning products began flying off the shelves.

Recently, however, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a statement saying:

“The principal mode by which people are infected with SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) is through exposure to respiratory droplets carrying infectious virus. It is possible for people to be infected through contact with contaminated surfaces or objects (fomites), but the risk is generally considered to be low.”

While it’s still possible to become infected with the virus after coming into contact with a contaminated surface, it’s much less of a risk than what was believed when the pandemic first began. In fact, the CDC even states that in most cases, you can just use soap or detergent and water in order to clean surfaces off enough to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

How SARS-COV-2 Spreads

At the beginning of the pandemic, vast, empty shelves were a common sight among grocery and convenience stores where people would buy cleaning supplies in bulk and leave little to nothing on the shelves. Not only were people using the supplies to frequently disinfect the inside of their homes, but businesses were also heavily purchasing cleaning products. In order to stay open and adhere to health official guidelines, businesses and schools would have to clean and disinfect areas that had high volumes of foot traffic and surfaces that people frequently touched.

According to the CDC, the virus that causes COVID-19, known as SARS-CoV-2, is what they call an “enveloped virus” which means that the material the virus is made of is packed inside an outer layer that has “spike proteins”, that attaches to human cells to infect them. Fortunately, SARS-CoV-2 is less of a threat once exposed to surfaces that have been cleaned adequately. And the risk of transmission, per the CDC, largely depends on:

  • The infection prevalence rate in the community
  • The amount of virus infected people expel (which can be substantially reduced by wearing masks)
  • The deposition of expelled virus particles onto surfaces (fomites), which is affected by air flow and ventilation
  • The interaction with environmental factors (e.g., heat and evaporation) causing damage to virus particles while airborne and on fomites
  • The time between when a surface becomes contaminated and when a person touches the surface
  • The efficiency of transference of virus particles from fomite surfaces to hands and from hands to mucous membranes on the face (nose, mouth, eyes)
  • The dose of virus needed to cause infection through the mucous membrane route

Although there are still some factors that might play a role in how contagious the spread of the virus is on a surface, as shown above, the CDC has concluded that “the relative risk of fomite transmission of SARS-CoV-2 is considered low compared with direct contact, droplet transmission, or airborne transmission.”


The single, most important reason why reaching herd immunity is important, per KidsHealth, is because it protects people who are not immune to a As a precautionary measure the CDC still recommends practicing general hygiene techniques, such as hand washing and wearing a facial mask while out in public, so that you can best protect yourself and others from spreading or being infected with the virus. After all, the coronavirus is highly contagious and appears to be spreading more efficiently than influenza. So, while there is good news about a lower risk of spreading the virus via surfaces than what was thought before, we still need to follow the safety guidelines that have helped protect us from this pandemic and have reduced the spread of the virus.

How to Effectively Clean & Reduce the Spread

For many, cleaning and disinfecting during the pandemic became a routine part of life. In order to keep a business open and functioning, cleaning was an essential part of each and every shift. And although the CDC still recommends that cleaning surfaces and areas should be a priority, they now know that using disinfectant isn’t totally necessary, but it can be helpful in some situations. The CDC states:

“To substantially inactive SARS-CoV-2 on surfaces, the surface must be treated with a disinfectant product registered with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) list or technology that has been shown to be effective against the virus. However, there is little scientific support for routine use of disinfectants in community settings, whether indoor or outdoor, to prevent SARS-CoV-2 transmission from fomites.

Routine cleaning performed effectively with soap or detergent, at least once per day, can substantially reduce virus levels on surfaces.”

The CDC also goes on to explain that the virus is mostly transmissible through people coughing, sneezing or somehow releasing respiratory droplets into the air, and the virus can remain suspended in the air from anywhere between a minute to hours. Wearing a mask consistently and properly (over the nose and mouth) can greatly reduce the amount of exposure to the virus while indoors.

In order to reduce and slow the spread of the pandemic, the CDC recommends to follow these guidelines while out in public, at home or just in general:

  • Wearing a mask that covers your nose and mouth in order to protect yourself, as well as others
  • Social distance and remain 6 feet apart from others who don’t live with you, and avoid crowds and poorly ventilated indoor spaces
  • Get a COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available to you
  • Continue to wash your hands often with soap and water, and use hand sanitizer if soap and water aren’t available; and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth if possible


It’s always good to remember that people of any age, including young, healthy adults and children can become infected with COVID-19. However, people who are older or have certain underlying medical conditions are at higher risk of becoming very sick if infected and therefore, should take precautions.

If you become sick, the CDC recommends that you stay home unless you become so ill that you feel you need medical attention. And, if you have symptoms of the COVID-19 – fever, cough, headaches, fatigue, muscle or body aches, loss of taste or smell, sore throat – you should contact your healthcare provider and get tested. If you have suspicion that you might be infected with the virus, you should also try to isolate yourself from others to ensure that you aren’t spreading the virus to friends, family or coworkers.

Once enough people reach immunity to the virus – either through receiving the COVID-19 vaccine or through getting the infection – the country or area you live in will eventually reach herd immunity and hopefully we can slowly get back to enjoying our normal everyday activities. As more research and data is collected on the virus, scientists and health officials will get a better understanding of the pandemic we find ourselves in and be able to update guidelines so we can get things back on track. But for now, you can rest easy knowing that your countertops and surfaces at your favorite store aren’t crawling with the virus once it’s cleaned with a little soap and water.

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