(Since Many People Still Won’t Wash Theirs)
On March 23, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated their guidance regarding building ventilation. While highlighting the importance of ventilation and air quality in the fight against COVID-19, the CDC acknowledged that there are “multiple mitigation strategies…to reduce the spread of disease and lower the risk of exposure.”
In addition to ventilation, the strategies listed on the CDC website include
This list reiterates the fundamental steps that the CDC has been recommending for nearly a year. However, when asked to put these steps into practice, the public’s willingness can vary dramatically.
The reality of American adults’ compliance with CDC guidelines
The following information paints a stark picture of American adults’ attitudes toward physical distancing, facial coverings, hand hygiene, and vaccination:
- In March 2021, Gallup noted a 9 percentage point decrease in respondents who self-reported strict social distancing, even among the not-yet-vaccinated population
- In a study conducted by the University of Southern California, 83 percent of American adults recognized masks as an effective way to protect against COVID-19, but only 51% of those surveyed said they actually wear a face covering in public
- Despite increased emphasis on hand washing during COVID-19, the CDC reported in October 2020 that “fewer than 75% of respondents reported remembering to wash their hands after having respiratory symptoms, before eating in a restaurant, and before eating at home”
- The Pew Research Institute reports that 69% of American adults intend to be or already have been vaccinated; while this is in range of the predicted 70% immunity needed to reach herd immunity, the Mayo Clinic has noted that reaching herd immunity via vaccination has “drawbacks” such as waning protection over time and the necessity of revaccination – possibly due to changes in the disease itself
These statistics and surveys illustrate that companies, healthcare facilities, schools and other organizations seeking to provide safe environments cannot rely solely on individuals to appropriately distance, wear masks, get vaccinated, or even wash their hands. Given this clear inconsistency in human behavior, there is a need for additional, reliable mitigation strategies. Surface disinfection is an obvious strategic choice because like ventilation upgrades, surface disinfection provides a mitigation for the inconsistent choices people may make to do their part in stopping infection spread.
The case for surface disinfection
Even before COVID-19 plunged the world into a global crisis from which we are still emerging, the CDC had recognized the critical role that surface disinfection can play in enabling safer environments. With the rise of coronavirus, the CDC has consistently acknowledged disinfection as a tactic organizations can use to offset potential transmission risks – particularly in community settings, as society returns to classrooms, offices, and other communal, public spaces. As the CDC and other experts have highlighted, surface disinfection continues to be important for the following reasons:
- Public spaces are often home to surfaces ideally suited for virus or germ survival. Offices, schools, and other public spaces have high occurrences of non-porous surfaces made from plastic and steel, and these non-porous materials make it easier for a virus or germ to survive. Unlike porous surfaces such as wood, where viruses can sink into the surface, on a non-porous surface, a virus has nowhere to go.
- Viruses like influenza can survive on non-porous surfaces for long periods of time. While the CDC has stated that the risk of COVID-19 infection through contact with contaminated surfaces or objects is low, studies have shown that viable virus samples can survive for days or even weeks on non-porous surfaces. Perhaps more importantly, studies of other common pathogens – like influenza – have found that these viruses can survive on non-porous surfaces for anywhere from hours to months.
- Many high-touch surfaces that can contribute to transmission often don’t receive regular disinfection. A 2018 study of airport surfaces’ role in infection spread via travel found surface contamination at multiple high-touch sites, with the “highest frequency of respiratory viruses on plastic trays used in security check areas for depositing hand-carried luggage and personal items.” Despite the widespread use of these plastic (non-porous surface) trays due to security protocols, the researchers noted “security trays are not routinely disinfected.”
- Even when we achieve herd immunity to coronavirus, other risks will persist. The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes the worldwide increase in antibiotic-resistant microorganisms as a major threat to global health, and disinfection practices are an important means of fighting that increasing resistance.
- Surface disinfection has been directly correlated to reduced risk of transmission of many common viruses. In a 2018 study that modeled infection risks for common viruses such as rotavirus, rhinovirus, and influenza A, a single round of cleaning using an EPA-registered disinfectant in an urgent care facility led to a 94.1% viral reduction on surfaces and hands.
The future of surface disinfection
To ensure the safety of individuals in public and high-traffic spaces, surface disinfection should play a key role in an organization’s transmission mitigation strategies. Human tendency toward hedonic adaptation demonstrates that people will become increasingly less emotionally affected by the negative stimulus of potential infection and therefore less inclined to engage in mitigating behaviors like hand washing, mask wearing, physical distancing, and vaccination. Despite this reduced willingness to comply, the risks will remain.
As CDC recommendations indicate, surface disinfection is an important practice organizations can leverage to reduce risk and increase reassurance. The Environmental Protection Agency’s List N provides disinfectant product recommendations for combating COVID-19 and other viruses. However, it is worth noting that chemical disinfectant solutions often come with high costs and potential exposure risks. R-Zero’s Arc UV-C technology presents a more effective, efficient and environmentally safe alternative to these more costly and complicated chemical options. A study of hospital critical areas found that when hospital staff used a chlorine-based detergent followed by a chlorine-based disinfectant as part of standard operating protocol (SOP), 63% of samples tested positive for microbial contamination. By contrast, samples obtained from comparable areas that were treated with ultraviolet light (UV-C) were only 18% positive. This research and other studies like it highlight significant increased benefits of UV-C in preventing the spread of infection.
Today, R-Zero is delivering innovation that puts the best infection prevention technologies within reach of every organization and community. So while there will always be people who won’t wash their hands, adding hospital-grade UV-C to daily health and safety protocols is one way to ensure an extra layer of infection prevention protection in the high-traffic, high-touch spaces that need it most.
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