The US Administration decided to fumigate the White House facilities after the departure of Donald Trump. Thus, hours before Joe Biden occupied the presidential residence, a team of workers dedicated themselves to spraying disinfectant around the rooms.
Last week, the British watched their prime minister, Boris Johnson, go to great lengths to clean the seat of a chair. A year after a new coronavirus subdued the world, too many measures are taken in the face of the gallery. It is the “pandemic theater”, as the researcher Zeynep Tufekci defined it in April 2020 in an article in which she criticized useless and even counterproductive actions, such as closing parks.
In those first few weeks, the scientific evidence was beginning to gather. Some, in a contradictory way. They scandalized photographs of families in gardens and walks, the safest places. Tables were circulating on mobile phones detailing how much the coronavirus could withstand on certain surfaces.
It was recommended to clean shoes, groceries and even clothes when returning from the street. But we have known for months that so much effort is not necessary. “I stopped seeing convincing evidence a long time ago and I stopped doing it,” explains virologist Margarita del Val about the determination to scrub everything.
The possibilities of contagion by surfaces – by fomites, in medical language – are scarce. The European Center for Disease Control (ECDC) makes it clear this way: “It is considered possible, although, up to now, transmission through fomites has not been documented.” The CDC, its US equivalent, assures that “spread through contact with contaminated surfaces is not believed to be a common form of spread of COVID-19.”
“After a year of pandemic, the evidence is now clear. The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus is predominantly transmitted through the air ”
After more than 100 million infections, it has not been possible to prove that someone was infected after touching a contaminated surface. “After a year of pandemic, the evidence is now clear. The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus is transmitted predominantly through the air, by people who speak and exhale large droplets and small particles called aerosols, ” the journal Nature settled in an editorial .
And he regretted that some authorities insist on permanent disinfection of surfaces: “The result is a confusing public message when clear guidance is needed on how to prioritize efforts to prevent the spread of the virus.”
That does not mean that we stop washing our hands and using gel in stores, because direct contact is a possible route of infection. It is not necessary to concentrate efforts on disinfecting milk cartons or walls of buildings that no one will touch.
Del Val , director of the CSIC platform for covid, looks at the psychological aspect of the problem: “Many people have a maximum of a couple of measures in their daily lives and one is the mask, the other is cleaning everything or the distance and we cannot also ventilate ”.
Elvis García, a public health expert at Harvard University, considers that the problem with the “hygiene theater” is that “it is easy to understand, intuitive and easy to attack.” And he adds: “The thing about particles and masks is more difficult to understand.”
However, according to the Cosmo-Spain survey , from the Carlos III Health Institute, knowledge of the modes of contagion —and the need to ventilate— is high in Spain.
Already in its March 2020 recommendations, the ECDCHe only advised cleaning specially handled points, such as doorknobs, switches, handrails and elevator buttons, while the army was already spraying benches and sidewalks in the open air in the streets.
The scientist Teresa Moreno, from the IDAEA-CSIC, analyzed the presence of the coronavirus on the bars and buttons of the metro and buses in Barcelona in the months of May and June. “At that time, people thought that contagion occurred more through surfaces,” he recalls, but they also took air samples because it is their specialty.
They found traces of the virus in both elements, but they were fragments that had no ability to infect. “We found low levels in the air, and it was from when people weren’t wearing a mask, so it doesn’t seem like a source of infection; I use public transport and I don’t feel like I’m going in a dangerous place ”,
The most interesting thing is that there were vehicles that Transportes Metropolitanos de Barcelona cleaned with bleach and others fumigatedwith ozone. Those that were disinfected with a cloth and bleach were free of traces of the virus after cleaning, but not the vaporized buses.
“We saw that with the ozone cannons it was very difficult for it to spread throughout the vehicle. At low concentrations, ozone does nothing, we kept finding traces. And at very high levels it is not viable because it is very toxic ”, indicates the scientist.
“I am concerned about the gadgets that are being offered now, because they are very toxic, they react with materials and harm health,” she warns. Del Val points out: “It is not at all clear that they work, and it is necessary to ventilate in any case at the end, due to the toxicity to the mucous membranes: well, ventilate well and that’s it”.
“The spraying of disinfectants is not recommended due to lack of effectiveness and possible damage to the environment and humans”
The health authorities are clear in this regard. ECDC notes that “spraying (also called fumigation) of disinfectants outdoors or on large indoor surfaces (rooms, classrooms or buildings), or the use of ultraviolet light radiation, is not recommended for the population due to the lack of effectiveness, possible damage to the environment and possible exposure of humans to irritating chemicals ”.
The World Health Organization (WHO) also clearly opposes the use of sprays, as useless and dangerous, in environments and also in people, in those car washes that mist products when entering some environments.
In its page to disprove myths of the pandemic, the WHO also clarifies that the chances of contagion with shoes is “very low” and that temperature scanners do not serve to detect covid patients, because many do not present that symptom and even so they are contagious. “The gun to measure the temperature does not make much sense.
In Ebola, yes, because you only infect if you have a fever, but in this case the opportunity cost is only for the gallery, ”says García. And he claims: “What you need are not thermometers for travelers, but a ten-day quarantine.” In addition, the ECDC advises against the use of gloves because “they do not confer an additional benefit and can lead to inadequate hand hygiene and increased contamination of surfaces.”
“We saw that with the ozone cannons it was very difficult for it to spread throughout the vehicle. At low concentrations, ozone does nothing, we kept finding traces. And at very high levels it is not viable because it is very toxic ”
Again, these are theatrical decisions that can give a false sense of security, for someone who enters a building with carpets to clean soles, spray arches and assistants with thermometers.
Harvard epidemiologist Miguel Hernán criticizes other “pandemic theaters” that continue to be performed, such as “the theater of imposing a safety distance, which is not controlled, in poorly ventilated bars as if there were no contagion by aerosols when speaking in voice high because the music prevents hearing “. Or the “theater of recommending teleworking instead of regulating it by law for all the positions in which it is possible.”
García points to other issues that also seem to him representations without substance: “There are important measures that have not been wanted to take and things have been invented in return, such as pandemic hospitals, perimeter closures when the incidence is just as high in all neighborhoods, discussions about the curfew of places that would have to be closed, dressing astronaut workers for anything “.
“They are intuitive things, even if they don’t make sense,” he says. And he points out a last aspect that visually and psychologically has a great influence: the waves of contagion. “It is a construction that causes people to be predisposed to the virus coming. Governments do well because we assume that it is something inevitable that just happens. When we face an epidemic we have to go deep to end it.