The #1 “CDC Rule” You Should Never Follow

This month, the headlines blared the big news: “COVID-19 Cannot Be Spread By Touching Surfaces, Says CDC.” Collectively, we breathed a sigh of relief. After months of washing our hands after every Amazon delivery or cereal box we touched, it turned out we couldn’t get infected that way at all. 

One problem, though: It’s not true. You could still catch coronavirus from surfaces.

The misinformation was spread as the result of an editing error on the CDC’s own website. The agency even had to issue a release to clarify what went wrong. In fact, you should be very careful touching surfaces in the COVID-19 era. Why?

“High touch surfaces like railings and doorknobs, elevator buttons are not the primary driver of the infection in the United States,” Erin Bromage, a comparative immunologist and biology professor at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, told the New York Times. “But it’s still a bad idea to touch your face. If someone who is infectious coughs on their hand and shakes your hand and you rub your eyes—yes, you’re infected. Someone’s drinking from a glass, and you pick it up near the rim and later rub your eyes or mouth, you’re infected.”

How the Mistaken Rule Got Out

Someone at the CDC made a communications error, plain and simple. “CDC actively reviews our website to make sure the content is accessible and clear for all types of audiences,” the agency wrote in a clarifying statement. “As a result of one such review, edits were made to the organization of the COVID-19 transmission page, including adding a headline in an attempt to clarify other types of spread beyond person to person. This change was intended to make it easier to read, and was not a result of any new science.”

“After media reports appeared that suggested a change in CDC’s view on transmissibility, it became clear that these edits were confusing,” they continued. “Therefore, we have once again edited the page to provide clarity.”

In Fact, You Likely Can Get COVID-19 From Surfaces

Although scientists are still researching how COVID-19 transmits, it’s best to use caution around surfaces exposed to COVID-19. “The primary and most important mode of transmission for COVID-19 is through close contact from person-to-person,” wrote the CDC. “Based on data from lab studies on COVID-19 and what we know about similar respiratory diseases, 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, but this isn’t thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”

How to Stay Coronavirus-Free

You know the rules and, to clarify once again, they have not changed: Wash your hands for 20 seconds after contact with an object that may have been exposed to COVID-19—or use hand sanitizer if you don’t have soap and water. Disinfect your home frequently. Wear a face mask, which can prevent the transmission of droplets, but also inhibit you from touching your face. And to get through this coronavirus crisis at your healthiest, don’t miss these Things You Should Never Do During the Coronavirus Pandemic.

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