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Can You Get the Virus From a Surface?

2020-05-28 10:35:56
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As lockdowns lift, many more Americans are going to come in contact with surfaces that other people have touched: doorknobs, tabletops, shopping bags and more. And I know that many people find these situations confusing.

The early scientific advice seemed to encourage people to treat surface contact with utmost seriousness. More recently, research has suggested that few people get the virus this way. The main transmission mechanism instead appears to be close contact with someone who has the virus, like talking face-to-face or sitting nearby in an indoor setting. Those situations expose people to enough of a “viral load” to become infected.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently tried to clarify its guidance on the subject: “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.”

So how should you think about surface transmission?

It doesn’t seem to be common, but it does seem possible. It is the most likely explanation for an outbreak at a Chinese shopping mall, as my colleague Tara Parker-Pope points out.

One thing to understand is that merely touching virus particles isn’t enough to become infected. You probably have to touch many particles — and then touch your face. Objects that a small number of other people briefly touch, like groceries and shopping bags, seem to present a very small risk. That’s why I have stopped wiping down every object that comes into my house, as I was when the lockdown began.

In the spectrum of risk, you should worry more about face-to-face conversations and extended time in indoor spaces with people who are outside your household. “We don’t need to be paranoid — you can still play catch or press an elevator button — we just need to wash our hands and be mindful,” Tara told me. She has just published a guide to surface transmission, and I recommend it.

In other virus developments:

Jonathan Rothwell, the principal economist at Gallup, published updated data on Wednesday that compared changes in unemployment across countries. Those with smaller increases have typically subsidized companies to keep workers on the payroll during the pandemic, Rothwell told me.

Dr. Anthony Fauci told The New Yorker in 2002 that Kramer had made a profound mark on history: “In American medicine, there are two eras: before Larry and after Larry.”

The risk of transmission through packaging is slim (for the reasons I described above). Your best bet is contactless delivery, with advance electronic payment, which eliminates the risk of physical interaction for you and the delivery person. Just don’t forget to tip — and if you’re fortunate enough to still have your job, consider making it generous. Tips are down almost 80 percent since the pandemic began, one expert told The Times.

“Look at that,” Durham said as he watched security footage of the recent theft. “His gear is not even professional. If you’re a professional, you’re fully in black. He’s got jeans and Nike sneakers on.”

You can see today’s print front page here.

Today’s episode of “The Daily” is about the new era in U.S. spaceflight.

A correction: The introduction in yesterday’s newsletter incorrectly said four Minneapolis police officers were fired for their involvement in a fatal shooting; they were fired for their involvement in a fatal confrontation involving a chokehold.

Lauren Leatherby, Ian Prasad Philbrick and Sanam Yar contributed to The Morning. You can reach the team at [email protected].

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