Touching surfaces or person-to-person? Clarifying the main way coronavirus (COVID-19) spreads

Touching surfaces can still spread COVID-19

DETROIT – Does the coronavirus (COVID-19) typically spread by touching surfaces, or is it just person-to-person contact? Health officials clarified the main way the virus spreads after modifying their stance.

It’s been widely reported that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has modified its information on how COVID-19 is spread, with many saying that touching infected surfaces might be less of a concern.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus and COVID-19 infection are primarily respiratory problems, but when someone coughs or sneezes, infected droplets are expelled and land on nearby surfaces. If someone touches those surfaces, the virus can be picked up on hands and infect someone who then touches their face.

That basic principle hasn’t changed, but the CDC is changing the emphasis for the most common source of the spread.

The exact wording from the current CDC information page is that “the virus is thought to spread from person-to-person between those who are in close contact with one another -- within about six feet -- through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks.”

The droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. COVID-19 can still be spread by people who aren’t showing symptoms, the CDC says.

Person-to-person spread has always been considered the main way the virus spreads.

Regarding the spread of COVID-19 through contact with contaminated surfaces, the CDC says, “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.”

The CDC goes on to say ways to slow the spread of virus include maintaining social distance, washing hands with soap and water, using hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol and routinely cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces.

The bottom line is that surface contamination is still an important factor to consider, but person-to-person transmission through droplets is considered the most critical danger.

The CDC suggests people clean their hands after handling mail or packages. As far as cleaning groceries, that’s up to the individual to decide, based on personal risk and comfort level.

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