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Everyone needs to ignore one particular coronavirus recommendation from the CDC

Updated Jun 11th, 2020 12:00PM EDT
Coronavirus Tips CDC
Image: CGN089/Shutterstock

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  • Coronavirus tips from the CDC should generally be considered the most accurate and reliable information available.
  • But last month, the CDC made a big change to the COVID-19 information on its website that does more harm than good.
  • The CDC now says that the novel coronavirus does not spread easily from touching surfaces or objects, but everyone would be wise to completely ignore that statement and continue to sanitize surfaces and their hands as often as possible.

The novel coronavirus is still so new that our knowledge of the virus is changing on a daily basis. Things we think we know for certain one week can be proven wrong the next, and information we’ve been reading for months can be flipped on its head in an instant. A perfect example came last week when Trump declared that he was taking hydroxychloroquine regularly as a preventative measure to avoid catching COVID-19. Needless to say, Trump lies all the time so we have no way of knowing whether or not he is actually taking the drug.

First and foremost, there have never been any suggestions from the medical community that hydroxychloroquine might work as a preventative measure. Instead, the drug has been studied as a potential therapy for people who have already contracted COVID-19. Trump has been talking it up repeatedly with no real science to back up his claim, and then the inevitable happened this week: yet another study found that Trump’s beloved hydroxychloroquine does nothing to help treat coronavirus infections.

Of course, we knew long before hydroxychloroquine blew up in Trump’s face that his recommendations recording the novel coronavirus can and should be ignored. The CDC, on the other hand, is an organization we can rely on to deliver the most accurate and reliable information available. The organization is also generally very cautious with how it presents information. If the CDC makes a recommendation — like the one that says we should all wear face masks and practice social distancing — you should almost always listen. We say “almost” because there’s one new tidbit on the CDC’s coronavirus site that you should definitely consider ignoring.

Last week, we told you about a small but significant change on the CDC’s pages concerning how to prevent getting sick with COVID-19. The site had previously included a note that it may be possible to contract the disease by touching a surface or object with the virus on it. For example, if a sick person touches a doorknob and then you touch the same doorknob, you can potentially get the novel coronavirus on your hands and infect yourself by touching your face. Now, however, the CDC has changed that section of its site. Here’s the new blurb:

The virus spreads easily between people

How easily a virus spreads from person-to-person can vary. Some viruses are highly contagious, like measles, while other viruses do not spread as easily. Another factor is whether the spread is sustained, which means it goes from person-to-person without stopping.

The virus that causes COVID-19 is spreading very easily and sustainably between people. Information from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic suggest that this virus is spreading more efficiently than influenza, but not as efficiently as measles, which is highly contagious.

The virus does not spread easily in other ways

COVID-19 is a new disease and we are still learning about how it spreads. It may be possible for COVID-19 to spread in other ways, but these are not thought to be the main ways the virus spreads.

  • From touching surfaces or objects. 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. This is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads, but we are still learning more about this virus.
  • From animals to people. At this time, the risk of COVID-19 spreading from animals to people is considered to be low. Learn about COVID-19 and pets and other animals.
  • From people to animals. It appears that the virus that causes COVID-19 can spread from people to animals in some situations. CDC is aware of a small number of pets worldwide, including cats and dogs, reported to be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, mostly after close contact with people with COVID-19. Learn what you should do if you have pets.

As you can see above, the CDC site now says “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. This is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads, but we are still learning more about this virus.” But that tidbit is under a large heading that bluntly states “the virus does not spread easily in other ways.”

This is dangerous. The CDC acknowledges that there isn’t yet enough information out there to determine conclusively how easy it is to spread the virus from contact with surfaces. But changing the wording of that section’s heading to state so clearly that the virus “does not spread easily” from touching surfaces or objects is a bad idea.

If you want to play it safe, you shouldn’t change anything you’re doing in terms of the precautions you’ve been taking. Continue to avoid touching surfaces whenever possible in public, and continue to use hand sanitizer anytime you do. Disinfect and quarantine all mail, packages, grocery packaging, and anything else that enters your home. The safe guideline is that the novel coronavirus can survive on hard surfaces like metal and plastic for up to three or four days and on porous surfaces like cardboard and organic material for up to one day. Keep that in mind and treat everything you come in contact with as though it has been contaminated.

Zach Epstein
Zach Epstein Executive Editor

Zach Epstein has been the Executive Editor at BGR for more than 10 years. He manages BGR’s editorial team and ensures that best practices are adhered to. He also oversees the Ecommerce team and directs the daily flow of all content. Zach first joined BGR in 2007 as a Staff Writer covering business, technology, and entertainment.

His work has been quoted by countless top news organizations, and he was recently named one of the world's top 10 “power mobile influencers” by Forbes. Prior to BGR, Zach worked as an executive in marketing and business development with two private telcos.