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Experts say that only high-traffic areas probably need to be sanitized and you don’t necessarily have to use a disinfectant. Ryan J Lane/Getty Images
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that surfaces don’t need to be sanitized as often — new findings indicate the coronavirus doesn’t live long on them.
  • Experts say that high-traffic areas should still be wiped down, though using a disinfectant isn’t absolutely necessary.
  • They add that personal hygiene like hand-washing should continue.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have opted to follow not just the advice but the actions of infectious disease experts.

Consider then what Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Tennessee, is doing right now: gently pushing to reopen his local libraries.

“I’ve been promoting it quietly, but I believe it’s time to open our libraries,” he told Healthline.

Schaffner, a leading voice throughout the pandemic, says he’s able to do this now thanks to research news and a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announcement: SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, doesn’t live as long on surfaces as first suspected.

“Based on available epidemiological data and studies of environmental transmission factors, surface transmission is not the main route by which SARS-CoV-2 spreads, and the risk is considered to be low,” the CDC wrote in their findings.

That, says Schaffner, is good news and a reason to consider new actions like reopening libraries.

“We would still have to wipe books when they are returned, but from this, we now know we need not incubate them for 5 days,” he added.

In general, the findings mean that we can all relax a bit on cleaning surfaces and disinfecting items such as groceries, Schaffner says.

But it also means that other mitigating actions should be amped up, actions that could all but eliminate possible contamination from surfaces.

“The way to interrupt [the low chance that’s still there] is effective and simple: Do a lot of hand hygiene,” Schaffner said.

Dr. Debbie Eagles, the deputy director of CSIRO’s Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness, a center that has dug deep into the virus’s lifespan on surfaces, told Healthline that while the news is good, they still urge the public to keep up their hygiene practices.

“While studies have shown the main way SARS-CoV-2 spreads is through respiratory droplet and aerosol transmission, surface (fomite) transmission remains a feasible but low risk in most settings,” she explained.

“The advice to protect individuals from SARS-CoV-2 and other respiratory viruses remains in place: Wash your hands with soap and water frequently, use hand gels or wipes when out in public, avoid touching common surfaces whenever possible, and don’t put your fingers in your mouth or rub your eyes,” Eagles added.

Schaffner says that in high-traffic areas, surfaces should still be wiped down with sanitizer regularly.

“If it is a communal area of any kind, give it a good wipe a few times a day,” he said.

The CDC also points out that you may not even need to invest in special materials for that.

“In most situations, cleaning surfaces using soap or detergent, and not disinfecting, is enough to reduce risk,” the CDC advisory reads.

“Disinfection is recommended in indoor community settings where there has been a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 within the last 24 hours,” the advisory adds.

Schaffner said this is the way things work when coming out of a pandemic: Our findings on smaller issues help us inch our way back to a more normal life.

“This is the way we do this,” he said. “It’s like putting pieces of a puzzle together. We take time to find that the piece is the correct one, and then it moves us ahead.”