Disinfecting surfaces to prevent COVID-19 may be overkill, expert says

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- Constantly disinfecting doorknobs and other everyday surfaces to prevent the spread of COVID-19 may be overkill, according to infectious disease experts.

Dr. Emily Sickbert-Bennett, UNC Infection Prevention Director, said disinfecting all the surfaces in your house may not be a total waste of time and money, but it isn't the most effective way to prevent infection.

"I think it is important for people to direct their limited energy and resources to the interventions that we know are really the most important in stopping COVID transmission," she said.

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Sickbert-Bennett recommends sticking to the core interventions that have proven to most directly interrupt the chain of transmission: mask-wearing, physical distancing, and hand hygiene.

"We don't have a lot of data to support that environmental transmission is a source of COVID transmission," Sickbert-Bennett said.

In the beginning of the pandemic, studies showed COVID-19 was found on surfaces, even the bottoms of shoes, causing people to buy up disinfectant products to the point that stores had to place quantity limits on consumers.

"Much of the data that has caused alarm to people over the different locations where COVID has been found is really not a statement of live infectious virus that is able to cause infection to someone else, but just the remnants of the virus in various locations," Sickbert-Bennett said.

The viral RNA found on these surfaces, she said, is the genetic material -- skeleton pieces of the virus.

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"Just because the genetic material is present on a surface, it doesn't mean that the virus is whole and intact and capable of infecting someone's cells and causing infection to them," she said.

In public spaces such as restaurants where people are eating, constantly touching surfaces and their faces, Sickbert-Bennett said disinfecting surfaces between uses is helpful.

And while there is value in disinfecting your kitchen and bathroom to prevent all pathogens that can cause sickness, Sickbert-Bennett said preventing COVID-19 requires other measures -- the three W's- be taken.

"We all are extremely tired and worn out from implementing many interventions over this time period, but by really just focusing on what the science is telling us on how transmission is occurring and focusing on the most important interventions, we can really start to turn this around," she said.
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