It’s understandable if you’re confused. For several months, the CDC has maintained that high touch surfaces are breeding grounds for COVID-19. However, due to the health organization making some edits to their official website, there has been a bit of confusion surrounding their official stance on the likelihood of becoming infected with the virus from touching a contaminated surface.
Last week, they issued a clarification explaining that there is definitely a potential for catching the virus this way and that their edits were part of an effort to make their text easier to read—not as a result of new science or research. With that in mind, here are the 20 things from which you’re most likely to catch coronavirus.
“Once a high touch surface”—that’s something that is touched many times throughout the day—”is touched, then touching your face to rub your eyes, mouth or nose can transmit the virus and make you sick,” explains Heidi J. Zapata, MD, an assistant professor at Yale School of Medicine and infectious disease doctor at the clinical practice, Yale Medicine. She explains that all “high touch” surfaces can easily spread the coronavirus. “Therefore, by simply sanitizing your hands by washing with soap/water or with hand sanitizer you will significantly decrease your risk.” Another thing to consider? Wiping down “high touch” surfaces if you foresee using them.
Elevators are “definitely” a high touch surface to be cautious of, warns Dr. Zapata. “They are usually made of plastic, and are touched by hundreds if not thousands of individuals depending on the place,” she explains. If you can, consider using your elbow instead of fingers to touch buttons, wearing gloves, or sanitizing hands immediately after.
Due to the fact that many people handle a door knob, depending on the location, Dr. Zapata maintains they are a high touch surface. And, she points out, that knobs and handles made from steel, “would retain the virus longer than perhaps copper.” To be on the safe side, if you are opening doors anywhere but your house, make sure to sanitize or wash hands immediately afterwards.
We send text messages, take photos, and talk on our phones, touching them, talking into them, and holding them against our faces. It should come as zero surprise that these tiny gadgets can host a variety of germs and viruses. The good news is, we rarely touch other people’s phones. However, during the pandemic you should avoid coming into contact with electronic gadgets belonging to others. Dr. Zapata suggests remaining conscious of what you touch before you touch your phone, and clean your hands and phone accordingly.
Yep, other people’s hands can definitely be carriers of coronavirus. Before you opt to touch, hold, or shake someone’s hand, think about the infectious potential—and you might want to consider engaging in an alternate form of physical touch.
Whether you are in someone else’s house, a hospital, or another public place, you should exhibit extreme caution when going up and down stairs. Stair rails are there for a reason—to protect us from falling. However, while keeping us upright they can also be exposing us to other people’s germs. Think about it: how often do you disinfect your stair rails? Probably not too often. However, Dr. Zapata points out that the type of material stair rails are made out of can influence how infectious they can be.
Dr. Zapata says that light switches are “typically made up of plastic, and definitely touched by several individuals depending on the location and how much it is frequented.” While you may not be able to avoid turning lights on and off, make sure to practice hand hygiene promptly after touching.
Any type of button would be considered “high touch,” reminds Dr. Zapata—including those on vending machines. “Consider wiping down a vending machine if one were to spend an extended period of time there, or perhaps just sanitize hands afterwards,” she suggests.
Wearing gloves or a mask can put you at risk of contracting coronavirus if you don’t know how to take them off correctly. The CDC offers very specific guidance on how to safely remove gloves and your mask, in order to avoid potential contamination, reminding about the importance of washing hands immediately afterwards.
Checking into a flight? Or maybe you are at the hospital where there are communal computers. “It would be a good idea to wipe down a keyboard that one plans to sit and spend some time using,” says Dr. Zapata.
If you are riding public transportation, be weary of touching any surfaces—including your seat. Dr. Zapata maintains they have “high touch” potential, “given that most people would touch the seat while sitting down and then again when getting up.”
Similar to bus or train seats, Dr. Zapata maintains that airplane seats can host the virus. Also, be very careful of other surfaces, including the tray table, as they can also be contaminated.
If you are standing on the subway and forced to hold onto one of the supportive poles or grab bars, make sure to sanitize or wash your hands ASAP. “These have high probability of transmitting viruses given their makeup, so be careful,” maintains Dr. Zapata.
According to one study, hotel rooms are incredibly germy—from the bed linens to the nightstand, with the worst offender in the whole room being the remote control. It isn’t surprising that the hotel industry is taking drastic measures to ensure the safety of guests from the novel coronavirus.
Credit card terminals and ATM machines are unsurprisingly very germy surfaces, seeing as though numerous fingers touch them every hour and it is nearly impossible to ensure sanitation in between. If you can’t avoid using them, make sure to promptly sanitize your hands directly after.
Unless an establishment is offering sanitized pens, don’t even think about picking one up—or putting one in your mouth! A great way that some stores and restaurants are ensuring the safety of their patrons during the pandemic is by sanitizing writing instruments in between uses, clearly labeling jars “Sanitized pens” and “Used pens.” You can also copy this safety method at your home or office.
If you are getting food delivery or takeout, you might want to consider using your own utensils to eat it. According to an NIH study, virus droplets can live up to 2-3 days on plastic. So, just in case whoever packed up for food accidentally sneezed at some point when they were around the plastic forks, knives, and spoons, you can play it on the safe side.
A viral video circulating on the internet shows how using common serving utensils can quickly infect a group of people. In the clip, contaminated hands (represented by glow germs) quickly spread germs onto serving utensils, which are then used by other diners in the group. By the end of the meal, every single person has come into contact with the germs.
Gyms aren’t exactly the cleanest places you can visit. One study published earlier this year found drug-resistant bacteria, influenza, and other icky pathogens on about 25 percent of surfaces. If you do decide to work out at a gym, make sure to thoroughly sanitize every piece of equipment you plan to touch—as well as your own hands as soon as you step off. Also, really be diligent about not touching your face with your hands during your workout.
While “high touch” surfaces can make you sick, they are less likely to do than close contact, as noted by new guidelines from the CDC, reminds Dr. Zapata. “However, one should still be conscious of what you touch, especially in public areas,” she adds.
And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these Things You Should Never Do During the Coronavirus Pandemic.