2020-08-01

Aug 1, 2020 08:00 · 297 words · 2 minute read

Surface transmission of the coronavirus seems rare

An article in The Atlantic complains about hygiene theater and the fact that it pulls attention and effort away from the meaningful actions against COVID-19. Something important in the article, though, is a note on research showing how rare fomite (surface) transmission of the virus is.

But in a July article in the medical journal The Lancet, Goldman excoriated those conclusions. All those studies that made COVID-19 seem likely to live for days on metal and paper bags were based on unrealistically strong concentrations of the virus. As he explained to me, as many as 100 people would need to sneeze on the same area of a table to mimic some of their experimental conditions. The studies “stacked the deck to get a result that bears no resemblance to the real world,” Goldman said.

A good case study of how the coronavirus spreads, and does not spread, is the famous March outbreak in a mixed-use skyscraper in Seoul, South Korea. On one side of the 11th floor of the building, about half the members of a chatty call center got sick. But less than 1 percent of the remainder of the building contracted COVID-19, even though more than 1,000 workers and residents shared elevators and were surely touching the same buttons within minutes of one another. “The call-center case is a great example,” says Donald Schaffner, a food-microbiology professor who studies disease contamination at Rutgers University. “You had clear airborne transmission with many, many opportunities for mass fomite transmission in the same place. But we just didn’t see it.” Schaffner told me, “In the entire peer-reviewed COVID-19 literature, I’ve found maybe one truly plausible report, in Singapore, of fomite transmission. And even there, it is not a slam-dunk case. ”

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