Stop Doing This One Thing to Protect Yourself From COVID, Experts Say

"We don't want to focus our attention on things disproportionate to the threat that they pose."

The earliest days of the COVID pandemic saw a major rush on cleaning supplies like Lysol sprays and Clorox wipes, which we all thought would keep us safe from the virus. Even a year later, it can still be pretty hard to find your favorite brand on the shelves at the grocery store. But while wearing a mask, washing your hands, and keeping six feet of distance continues to be part of COVID best practices, experts now say that you can stop focusing on cleaning and disinfecting surfaces to stay safe, The Guardian reports. Read on to see what brought about this change in thinking, and for more on how you could potentially better your odds against the virus, check out These 3 Vitamins Could Save You From Severe COVID, Study Finds.

Focusing on keeping surfaces sanitized isn't the best use of safety efforts.

person washes their hands

Adapting your daily life to stay safe from the coronavirus has forced us all to make many changes over the past year, including the act of disinfecting groceries, mail, packages, and surfaces around the home and in public. But mounting research has led medical experts to advise that such precautions take a lot of effort, while providing little in the way of protection, suggesting that other methods can be more effective while also saving time and energy.

"I want to be clear that nothing should change in terms of washing our hands and personal hygiene," Hassan Vally, PhD, an epidemiologist with La Trobe University in Australia, told The Guardian. "We can, however, be less anxious about washing every surface 20 times a day, and just concentrate on good hand hygiene and social distancing, and staying home when sick, which should be more than enough to stop us from spreading the virus." And for more on where the virus is taking a turn for the worse, check out COVID Numbers Are Now Spiking Again in These 10 States.

Research has shown that catching the virus from touching surfaces is very rare.

Hands with glove wiping doorknob

Another expert pointed out that much of the early data that suggested surface contamination was a potential threat were too lab-focused to apply to the real world. "In my opinion, the chance of transmission through inanimate surfaces is very small, and only in instances where an infected person coughs or sneezes on the surface, and someone else touches that surface soon after the cough or sneeze (within 1–2 hours)," Emanuel Goldman, PhD, a professor of microbiology at Rutgers University, wrote in a commentary published in medical journal The Lancet in July. "I do not disagree with erring on the side of caution, but this can go to extremes not justified by the data." And for more on what does keep you safe from the virus, check out This Over-the-Counter Medication Can Kill COVID, Study Says.

"Pandemic fatigue" is real and makes focusing on the right safety measures important.

A young woman standing outdoors and removing her face mask.

Vally also told The Guardian that the concept of "pandemic fatigue" was something that's not only backed by evidence but also can have a major impact on the way we choose to keep ourselves and others safe. "There's been a lot of psychological research done that says that we only have a certain amount of willpower and a certain amount of detail that we can focus our attention on," Vally said. "To me as we learn more about the virus, we should make sure we are not being worried about things we shouldn't be worried about, we don't want to focus our attention on things disproportionate to the threat that they pose. That way, we will have more energy to focus on the things that are important, and that helps us to save money and time as well." And for more COVID news delivered right to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

There's one safety measure you're not focused on that you should be.

Health care professional wearing face shield and face mask PPE

Another expert pointed out that while keeping surfaces clean may create the feeling of safety, it actually can draw time, energy, and focus away from basic safety measures that could actually keep us safe. According to Peter Collignon, PhD, an infectious diseases physician and professor at the Australian National University, being near unmasked people while they talk, laugh, or sing is what drives the spread of the virus—and not just by inhaling particles.

He cited a large study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which found that 19 percent of healthcare workers still became infected with COVID even while wearing three-layered surgical masks, surgical gloves, shoe covers, and using hand sanitizer. Introducing face shields to their protective measures, however, brought the number of worker infections to zero. "I think we've underappreciated how important the eyes are and overemphasized surfaces," Collignon told The Guardian. And for more PPE advice, check out If You See This on Your Mask, the FDA Says Toss It Immediately.

Best Life is constantly monitoring the latest news as it relates to COVID-19 in order to keep you healthy, safe, and informed. Here are the answers to your most burning questions, the ways you can stay safe and healthy, the facts you need to know, the risks you should avoid, the myths you need to ignore,and the symptoms to be aware of. Click here for all of our COVID-19 coverage, and sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.
Zachary Mack
Zachary is a freelance writer covering beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. Read more
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