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By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Man wearing mask with cat (Image source: Public domain)
It can't be said enough that what makes dealing with COVID-19 worse is that no one can seem to agree on guidelines between wearing masks, treatment, etc. The guidelines seem to be constantly changing. The guidelines changed again on Thursday when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the virus "does not spread easily" from contaminated surfaces and animals.
The revised guidelines on the CDC website state in a headline font size, "The virus spreads easily between people," It goes on to say that COVID-19 "is spreading very easily and sustainably between people."
Additionally, in another change to the "How COVID-19 Spreads" website, the CDC clarifies which surfaces are not big risks. Under the heading, "The virus does not spread easily in other ways," it's explained that touching contaminated objects or surfaces doesn't seem to be a significant way the virus is spread. The same holds for exposure to infected animals.
On Thursday, CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund said that these recent revisions were the result of an internal review and "usability testing."
"Our transmission language has not changed," she noted. "COVID-19 spreads mainly through close contact from person to person."
When a person talks or coughs, tiny droplets are produced, which the CDC website says is the way COVID-19 travels. Asymptomatic people can spread the virus. This is why a "social distance" of six feet is suggested, as it's noted that droplets from a sneeze will travel about six feet.
Throughout the epicenters of the virus, we have seen how it makes fast work of dense crowds, such as nursing homes, prisons, cruise ships, and meatpacking plants. A recent report told of a Washington state choir practice that led to 52 people becoming infected from one individual.
"Direct contact with people has the highest likelihood of getting infected — being close to an infected person rather than accepting a newspaper or a FedEx guy dropping off a box," said Vincent Munster, a virologist and researcher in the virus ecology section at Rocky Mountain Laboratories, a facility at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease in Hamilton, Montana.
Munster and colleagues conducted experiments showing the virus remaining potentially viable on cardboard for up to 24 hours and on plastic and metal for up to three days. Yet, it typically degrades within hours of moving outside a host.
A CDC website change without a formal announcement or explanation is concerning to Angela L. Rasmussen, a virologist at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.
"A persistent problem in this pandemic has been lack of clear messaging from governmental leadership, and this is another unfortunate example of that trend," said Rasmussen. "It could even have a detrimental effect on hand hygiene and encourage complacency about physical distancing or other measures."
The previous version of the website included the same statement about surfaces as the newer one did, however. "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 previous statement read.
Rasmussen noted the new guidelines are not going to alter her habits. "I wash my hands after handling packages and wipe down shared surfaces with household disinfectant," she explained. "In my opinion, that's all that is necessary to reduce risk."
If people find comfort in "quarantining" their mail or wiping down plastic packaging with disinfectant, "there's no harm in doing that," noted Rasmussen. "Just don't wipe down food with disinfectant."
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