- The CDC says transmission through surfaces is less of a threat, as SARS-CoV-2 is primarily spread from person to person via respiratory droplets.
- New guidelines from the CDC outline a three-phased approach that local communities must meet as they gradually reopen.
- Each phase includes specific goals requiring decreases in the number of newly diagnosed COVID-19 cases and visits to the emergency room and healthcare centers for COVID-19 and flu-like illnesses.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new guidelines Wednesday on how to safely reopen the country.
The organization also updated its
Health officials previously suspected that SARS-CoV-2 spread readily via contaminated surfaces — such as doorknobs, cash, and mail.
Now, the CDC says transmission through surfaces is less of a threat, as SARS-CoV-2 is primarily spread from person to person via respiratory droplets.
“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 CDC website states.
The CDC is urging people to continue adhering to safety precautions, including social distancing, frequent handwashing, and routinely disinfecting surfaces.
“It always pays to be vigilant around coronavirus. Just because the most likely route of coronavirus spread is mouth to mouth, it doesn’t mean that surface-to-mouth spread is impossible,” Dr. Benjamin Neuman, a virologist and the head of the biology department at Texas A&M University-Texarkana, told Healthline.
Steps for gradually opening the country
The new guidelines from the CDC outlines a three-phased approach that local communities must meet as they gradually reopen.
Each phase includes specific goals requiring decreases in the number of newly diagnosed COVID-19 cases and visits to the emergency room and healthcare centers for COVID and flu-like illnesses.
A robust testing program must also be rolled out in all communities in order to track and monitor local transmission.
As communities achieve the requirements listed out in each phase, businesses and child care centers should communicate with local health authorities to adjust their operations accordingly.
Reopening schools and child care centers
Teachers and students (when possible) are advised to wear face masks and practice social distancing in the classroom by placing desks 6 feet apart.
Field trips and class outings should be canceled for the time being, and such events should be held virtually, the CDC recommended.
The CDC also recommends communal spaces, like playgrounds and school cafeterias, stay closed. When possible, students should eat in their assigned classroom instead with disposable utensils.
Students should also practice social distancing on buses, limiting one child per seat or every other row.
To start, camps and child care programs should be utilized be essential workers only. As local transmission is mitigated, all children can attend, but they should be kept in small groups to limit their risk of exposure to COVID-19.
Child care programs should also consider staggering arrival and drop off times to limit exposure, the CDC advises.
The new guidance asks teachers to educate students about the importance of handwashing, face masks, and good hygiene during the pandemic.
Lastly, if feasible, schools and child care centers are advised to conduct daily health checks on staff and students to screen for
If a staff member or student is diagnosed with COVID-19, the building should close for a short period of time and be disinfected.
Restaurants and bars
The interim guidelines also laid out a series of steps to help restaurants and bars scale up operations based on local levels of community transmission.
Step one asks bars to remain closed and restaurants to limit service to drive-through, curbside pickup, or delivery.
Step two permits bars and restaurants to open up with limited seating capacity adhering to strict social distancing. Outdoor seating is encouraged.
Step three allows bars and restaurants to include standing room occupancy, too, as long as social distancing can be practiced.
All shareable items — like menus, utensils, and condiments — should be avoided. Disposable menus, utensils, and dishes are recommended. Cash and credit cards should be handed over not by hand but via a tray.
Research on surface spread
In March, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggested that SARS-CoV-2 could survive on surfaces for up to 72 hours.
Following the report, people became wary of surfaces, fearfully wiping down packages, avoiding cash, disinfecting groceries.
“When the virus was new and mostly unknown, it made sense to take a cautious approach and guard against person-to-person and also surface-to-person infection,” says Neuman.
As researchers have uncovered more about the coronavirus in recent weeks, the narrative about how COVID-19 spreads has shifted.
It’s become clear the virus is spread predominantly from person to person, through respiratory droplets that are expelled from a person’s mouth when they cough, talk, sneeze, even sing.
“With surface-to-person spread, the question was always not so much how long virus would persist on a surface, but how virus would get from that surface into a person’s mouth or nose,” Neuman said.
There’s still a lower risk a person could contract the infection via touching a contaminated surface.
There are many steps that people can take to cut their risk of picking up the virus from a surface.
“If someone coughs into their hand, then touches a doorknob, another person touches that doorknob, and then wipes their nose, they could become infected. However, if the second person just washes their hands in between, the transmission cascade has been interrupted,” says Dr. Manisha Juthani, a Yale Medicine infectious disease doctor and associate professor at Yale School of Medicine.
Don’t let your guard down just yet
The updated language doesn’t mean you can be less vigilant.
SARS-CoV-2 is predominantly spread from person to person through respiratory droplets, however, it’s not impossible to get sick from touching a contaminated surface.
“Think of infection as a pie chart with a very big slice for person-to-person transmission and a very small slice for surface-to-person transmission. It’s not so much a matter of choosing which slice to join as staying off the pie chart altogether,” Neuman said.
Health officials still recommend people wash down surfaces routinely.
The change in language from the CDC suggests that fear around getting sick from touching a package or using a doorknob might not be warranted, according to Juthani.
But we still need to use common sense when touching surfaces: Wash your hands after handling mail. Avoid rubbing your eyes, nose, and mouth after touching other surfaces and inanimate objects.
Practicing good hygiene remains a crucial part of preventing the spread of COVID-19.
“These practices will need to continue for months ahead,” Juthani said. “Don’t let your guard down.”
The bottom line
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new guidance Wednesday about how to reopen schools, child care centers, restaurants, and bars.
The 60-page document lists out detailed steps, in calculated phases, how organizations and institutions can scale up operations based on local transmission.
The guidelines also included updated language about how COVID-19 is spread, as contaminated surfaces are now thought to be less of a threat.
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