Individuals and institutions across Canada are following the same deep-cleaning and product quarantining practices that were expected at the outbreak’s inception. Increased sanitation efforts for all shared surfaces. However, researchers say it’s time to go beyond “hygiene theatre,” or cleaning practices that give people a false sense of security and safety but are unlikely to lessen the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
Furthermore, the environmental impact of disposable wipes, the cost of disinfection supplies, and the stress placed on restaurant and shop personnel to adhere to high COVID-19 cleaning standards are all reasons to become pragmatic – and stop wiping off groceries and mail.
“Part of the challenge that we’re having, I think as infectious disease doctors and virologists, is [getting] people to understand that just because a virus is present on a surface or in an aerosol doesn’t mean that it’s an efficient mechanism for the virus to get itself transmitted because viruses go through all kinds of modifications that might influence their infectivity, their capacity to connect to cells, and so on,” she says.
One of the concerns with disposable wipes, according to Dr. Evans, is that they contribute to “general garbage concerns.”
UV radiation also helps to disinfect surfaces in outdoor public spaces, such as playgrounds, according to Dr. Jüni.
Dr. Evans cited a German study that found grocery stores were “decidedly unusual” as a source of COVID-19 transmission. “It’s probably related to the fact that individuals don’t spend a lot of time in a grocery store,” he added.
However, for other people, such as Toronto-based professional photographer and videographer Rob Stilez, COVID-19 cleaning measures – notably in grocery stores – are reassuring.
Mr. Stilez, who had his first dosage of the vaccine last month but still keeps a pair of disposable gloves in his back pocket and disinfects every mail-order parcel before letting it lie on his balcony, said, “Honestly, I believe it’s mentally… soothing, a little bit.”
COVID-19 cleaning processes have become a source of distraction for others.
“There’s a cognitive dissonance between reality and what you perceive as being safe,” said Dr. Leighanne Parkes, an infectious disease specialist and microbiologist who specializes in infection prevention and control at McGill University and Jewish General Hospital.
“Should we clean the library’s paperbacks or put them in quarantine for 24 hours before releasing them? Dr. Parkes stated, “I don’t believe that plays a substantial part in transmission.”
Rather, this emphasis on surface disinfection diverts attention away from “what’s actually important,” according to Dr. Parkes, such as “increasing ventilation in places where we know we have the highest risk of transmissions, such as our long-term care facilities, et cetera,” or redesigning physical space for persons in workplaces and institutions.
Mike Barber, a Toronto-based copywriter, and editor said he used to quarantine his cannabis shipments from British Columbia until he realized it was just adding to his worry.
Mr. Barber now considers the cost of COVID-19 cleaning for grocery store employees, retail employees, and servers.
“Those who bear the brunt of it are those who are paid the least to do so,” Mr. Barber explained. “Especially now that the evidence [about transmission] has borne out, I’ve been extremely curious to see when corporations, in particular, will abandon those practices.”
While scientists agree that hand hygiene should be a lifetime habit beyond the pandemic and that vaccination is the best form of COVID-19 protection, they believe it is time for hygiene theatre to end.
“I think we can definitely loosen up on a lot of the cleaning of our surroundings, independent of vaccine,” Dr. Parkes added.