Covid-19: To Clean or Not to Clean?

As it becomes clear, at least to those of us in the US, that Covid-19 will be with us a lot longer than anyone wants to contemplate, the next question for those of us fortunate enough not to have contracted it is how to minimize risk. And since this now looks to be a long haul, with many reporting or even exhibiting symptoms of Covid compliance fatigue, defining what are bona fide risks versus ones that are low, becomes even more important, since trying to do too much is likely to result in not doing much of anything well enough.

A new article in The Atlantic (hat tip ChiGal) argues that many of us are engaged in cleaning theater, just as much of what the TSA does in airports is security theater:

As a covid-19 summer surge sweeps the country, deep cleans are all the rage.

National restaurants such as Applebee’s are deputizing sanitation czars to oversee the constant scrubbing of window ledges, menus, and high chairs. The gym chain Planet Fitness is boasting in ads that “there’s no surface we won’t sanitize, no machine we won’t scrub.” New York City is shutting down its subway system every night, for the first time in its 116-year history, to blast the seats, walls, and poles with a variety of antiseptic weaponry, including electrostatic disinfectant sprays. And in Wauchula, Florida, the local government gave one resident permission to spray the town with hydrogen peroxide as he saw fit. “I think every city in the damn United States needs to be doing it,” he said…

But what if this is all just a huge waste of time?

In May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidelines to clarify that while COVID-19 spreads easily among speakers and sneezers in close encounters, touching a surface “isn’t thought to be the main way the virus spreads.” Other scientists have reached a more forceful conclusion. “Surface transmission of COVID-19 is not justified at all by the science,” Emanuel Goldman, a microbiology professor at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, told me. He also emphasized the primacy of airborne person-to-person transmission…

Surface transmission—from touching doorknobs, mail, food-delivery packages, and subways poles—seems quite rare. (Quite rare isn’t the same as impossible: The scientists I spoke with constantly repeated the phrase “people should still wash their hands.”) The difference may be a simple matter of time. In the hours that can elapse between, say, Person 1 coughing on her hand and using it to push open a door and Person 2 touching the same door and rubbing his eye, the virus particles from the initial cough may have sufficiently deteriorated.

Now on the one hand, I welcome this discussion if nothing else because I’ve relaxed a lot of my own cleaning discipline. I used to use my trusty alcohol bottle to spray and then wipe down the touched surfaces of the car after the aides had driven it and then I went out. I stopped that, concluding that wearing a mask when out resulted in my hands being off my face enough so that washing my hands when I returned from my errands would suffice. And that’s all for the best, since you need to let 60% to 70% alcohol sit a full 30 seconds in order to kill Covid-19, and a lot of the time I wasn’t doing that.1

And another reason this topic is important is that a lot of the cleaning is ineffective…not even for the stated reason, that the surfaces cleaned in the overwhelming majority of cases won’t have enough Covid-19 on it to pose a transmission risk. It’s that the sanitation is ineffective. My favorite example is the wipedowns of shopping carts. Have you bothered watching how they are done? First, the staff uses cleaners that are too weak to do anything to viruses (all sorts of cleaning products claim to kill germs when viruses are another kettle of fish).

Second, they don’t leave them on the surface long enough. You need to leave undiluted Clorox on a surface for five minutes to kill Covid-19. Fumes fumes fumes!!! None of the stuff these well-meaing store employees use is remotely as strong as bleach or alcohol….which are nasty to handle…so the only cleaning is happening via mechanical action, not chemical nuking of pathogens. And that would mean real scrubbing, with a garden variety soap or cleaning solution, and a proper rinse. Instead, I see the store staff using dirty rags over and over, which seems more likely to move germs around than kill them.

So if you are worried about carts, bring your own trusty alcohol bottle, or put on gloves and trash them when you return the cart, or just use a paper towel or some other barrier so you don’t touch the cart handle.

But having said that, who can’t like NYC having clean subways, as in really clean? People who are not city dwellers forget that drunks throw up in them and people spill drinks and food, so there’s all sorts of mess. People are afraid of taking the Metro North and the Path, and I understand the subways too, even though the real risk is unmasked fellow passengers, particularly if they cough or talk.

So perhaps the effort of visibly clean trains will encourage more mask compliance (which is pretty good in NYC but readers report that some on trains pull down their masks to converse, gah). More messaging about the inability to trace Covid-19 cases to the much more crowded Tokyo subways might also help.

More generally, the article takes an unduly black and white stance when there are plenty of grey areas and unknowns. There are still lots of unknowns, particularly about transmission. With our terrible testing in the US, it will be quite a while before we know much more. In the meantime, more evidence is piling up that even getting a mild infection is dangerous. For example, a fresh study out of Germany of Covid-19 victims, which included mild cases and people with no pre-existing conditions, found that 78 out of the 100 examined by MRI had heart abnormalities. This means the reasons for working to avoid getting Covid-19 are even stronger than some might believe. So taking steps that involve comparatively little effort that have potential protective value are worth it.

For instance, while I do understand the Atlantic author dissing the cleaning done at Planet Fitness (strictly limiting the number of users and getting people not on cardio machines to wear masks would do more good), and per above, I suspect what cleaning they do is virtually useless, that does not mean that being a virus-phobe at a gym is wrong-headed. My gym lets only a maximum of 10 people into its >2500 square foot gym area (excluding the bathrooms) which has 14 foot ceilings, meaning lots of cubic volume at any time and says it cleans between time slots (not really…it’s not even as good as the grocery store cart handle cleaning). My impression is they do a more through job overnight but I am also highly confident no one is bombing the gym with Clorox and leaving to let it do its work.

The point of this long-winded narrative is that dumbbell handles, handles on machines (such as the ones used to change weight levels) get touched a lot, when people in gyms wipe their noses and touch their mouths a lot. In other words, normal habits result in personal body fluids on surfaces people touch, and not just through droplets landing. And the gym has unintentionally induced a false sense of confidence via its claims of intra-day cleaning plus giving members mini-bottles of clearly-too-weak-to-do-anything solution and microfiber washcloths and asking them to wipe up after equipment use. I’m sure it’s better than nothing, since the mechanical action probably will remove some pathogens. But this isn’t adequate if you believe those surfaces can harbor contagious levels of Covid-19, which is the premise of this exercise. Hence I carry and use my trusty alcohol bottle!

The other reason I’m more of a cleaning freak than I used to be is that cleaning is the best proxy we have for the aides as to how careful they are likely to be with other Covid-19 precautions in their private life. So we keep the house tidier than usual and I wear a mask in the house to model behavior.

In addition to taking even more dietary supplements and meds (Vitamin D, zinc, progesterone, melatonin and now the juice of half a lime, based on an MD recommendation), we are also airing out the house daily.

In other words, a risk assessment based on the environments you encounter is very much in order, along with then taking suitable protective measures. And in the spirit of Taleb, with unknowns that have very bad outcomes associated with them, being overly cautious is worthwhile. You can always change course when you have better data.

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1 And if you inhale alcohol fumes (which is a given if you are fooling with a car), it irritates your trachea, which can then lead to Covid alarm.

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79 comments

  1. PlutoniumKun

    I can stand corrected on this, but my reading of the evidence now strongly suggests that risk via surface to mouth contact is pretty minimal. Its certainly not zero, but it looks like the virus is overwhelmingly transferred through inhalation, either aerosols or droplets. I suspect that the cleaning advice hasn’t been withdrawn at least partly because of embarrassment that they got this so badly wrong, and partly because with flu season coming up, good hygiene is important.

    I recall when this started back in January commenting on a video from Wuhan that the Chinese seemed to be engaging in mask theatre. A video showing a woman who refused to wear a mask on a bus being harangued by security men, all with bare hands, touching surfaces in the bus. Looking back, I wonder if the Chinese authorities simply had a better idea of the real risk factors, hence they were not focusing at all on hand hygiene. Maybe it was luck, maybe experience, maybe their experts are simply better at this.

    Either way, I don’t think that on a personal level (unless you are at a very high risk), there is much point in going beyond basic good hygiene – hand washing regularly, especially when coming home, and keeping shared surfaces like handles regularly cleaned. The exception is shared toilets which should I think be disinfected very regularly. Personally, I will avoid any enclosed toilet space in shared areas as much as I possibly can for the next few months. The overwhelming focus should be on air circulation within buildings and social distancing, especially indoors. And masks of course.

    Reply
    1. Adam1

      I completely agree. And covid-19 has the possibility of making the flu season ugly if the level of viral load remains what it is in many areas. Covid-19 has a relatively unique ability in disabling an infected cells ability to produce interferon. Interferon is an immunity response that infected cells normally produce to help slow the spread of viruses in the body. Shutting off interferon production would equally benefit the flu virus as it does covid-19; god forbid you get infected with both at the same time.

      In our house we try to think of it in terms of risk and degrees of being able to assess risk based upon our social circles. We have trimmed our social interactions way back so that we are only interacting with very close friends/family and very few of them do we get together with indoors.

      Along with this is being aware of your community viral load. Here in upstate NY it’s quite low currently and hopefully will stay that way. But there are places in Florida (and elsewhere) where the testing data is showing 100 positives per 100k people and research says tests are capturing only about 1 in 10 infected people. That means the viral load is closer to 1 in 1,000 people. That would mean, for example, a busy supermarket probably has at least 1 infected person walking around it at all times when its busy. Not a place one should be visiting and god help the workers who are routinely being exposed.

      Reply
    2. Yves Smith Post author

      The nose is the big transmission route in. I would still have some concern in a place like a gym where people wipe their noses and then handle dumbbells or Olympic bars, and the next person does the same thing, All the huffing and puffing and sweating in a gym does lead to a high level of face-touching. I wear a mask to prevent that and still notice how much more mask fiddling (including removing mask to scratch face, usually with a paper towel) than I do the rest of the time when masked up.

      Reply
      1. vlade

        I guess I’d be now grateful to one of my college teachers, who was very old school and had a strict insistence that for the whole lecture (45 mins) everyone sits with their hands behind their back unless writing. Which means I now tend to randomly play with my hands (including touching face or fiddling with my glasses) way less than most people.

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      2. HH

        Considering the detailed attention you have paid to all transmission risks, what are you doing exercising in a gym? The enclosed space can harbor airborne COVID 19 virus for hours, and you have no knowledge or control of who has been in the exercise and changing room spaces. Exercise can be done anywhere, so avoiding the gym should be an obvious risk-reducing measure – far more significant than wiping surfaces.

        Reply
        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Reading comprehension fail. You apparently did not pay attention to what I wrote. This gym has a board advised by doctors, is full of doctors as members, and is following CDC recommendations.

          >2500 square feet and 14+ foot high ceilings is a lot of cubic volume. No more than 10 let in on any slot; I go in at off hours, and the highest # of other people I have seen is 5, 1 to 3 is more typical. They also take temperatures at the door. In keeping, most slots have four people or fewer. The only busy time is early AM on weekdays. and I come in at the opposite end of the day, and then only Fri to Sunday.

          The cardio equipment is way off on one side, with every other machine taken out of service and a big open space between that area and the weight equipment. Only two people at most using the cardio stuff when I am in. The gym skews geriatric, so at most you see someone in a slow jog. Many just walk or use the stationery bikes on a moderate pace. So you don’t have people huffing and puffing the way you do in most gyms. Even in the weigh area, only occasionally do you see a man doing intense lifting (there were a couple of women who lifted hard but I haven’t seen them since the rule changes). Oh, and people are required to wear masks at all times except when exercising. I wear mine then too and some members do as well (I was very pleased to see a buff man in his late 30s who was doing a hard weight session wearing his). Some equipment has also been removed and what is left rearranged in the weight area, and a former classroom repurposed for weight equipment use, so that all the stations are also well apart, >6 feet and more typically ~10 feet.

          In other words, due to the very low density of users, by design, if you wipe high contact surfaces, the risk is on a par with going to the grocery store, which experts deem to be low risk.

          Reply
    3. cocomaan

      I think some caution with frequently-touched surfaces makes sense.

      Doorknobs, gas pump handles, credit card checkouts, cash.

      But disinfecting the mail? Disinfecting after walking into and out of a building? Probably not necessary.

      However I also disinfect after doffing my mask, which I had read was a good idea.

      Reply
    4. rd

      Getting it into the eyes is a route, so touching the face etc. can be a pathway for it to get there. That is why face shields combined with a mask appear to be very effective if you are in a potentially dangerous environment.

      High concentration isopropyl alcohol or ethanol (70%+) sprayed on a surface and allowed to dry appears to be effective. You can order it by the gallon through amazon and otehr vendors.

      Nominal cleaning of cart handles etc. with wipes will get most potentially high dosage stuff off of them. Sanitizing hands with alcohol or washing hands immediately afterwards should eliminate that route of transmission.

      Ashrae has good info on building ventilation systems to control transmission through building HVAC systems. https://www.ashrae.org/file%20library/technical%20resources/covid-19/ashrae-covid19-infographic-.pdf

      Ultimately, just staying away from people in general is the most effective approach, especially with how many Americans are behaving badly about this.

      Reply
      1. Yves Smith Post author

        You don’t want IPA higher than 70%. I have some 91% and I dilute it to ~60-70%. Lower than 60% apparently not effective either.

        The reason >70% is ineffective is it evaporates too quickly and so does not have the time to damage the virus.

        Reply
        1. UserFriendly

          The higher the % alcohol the fast the evaporation rate. Alcohol kills living things by dehydrating them. The higher the % the faster it works.

          Reply
          1. Stephen Gardner

            Even viruses? Remember, they are not alive in that they have no metabolic processes. They hijack yours. Do they even contain water?

            Reply
  2. jackiebass

    I have watched cleaning of grocery carts and wheel chairs. Also the check out area of grocery store. I personally don’t see how items like a cart, wheel chair, or surface can be thoroughly cleaned in a short period of time. In all of the cases some of the surface was cleaned but much of it not cleaned. I guess some cleaning is better than none, but how it’s being done now seems to be not very effective. To me , wearing a mask coupled with thoroughly washing your hands is better protection.

    Reply
    1. rd

      As much as anything, it is about reducing viral load. Even if there is some virus left after cleaning, there wouldn’t be gobs of spittle of it.

      Reply
  3. vlade

    Elon, as usual, has already figured it out, and that’s why he came up with the ultimate cleaning machine.

    Of course, the condition of use is that your home is chrome-and-glass stuff, not boring wallpapers, plastic and what have you.

    Reply
  4. vlade

    More seriously, soap is actually better at killing the viruses than sanitisers (it destroys their protective coating more effectively than alcohol), the problem is that on any but nice and flat surfaces it’s not easy to get everywhere you need it. That’s actually why you wash your hands 30 seconds – not because it takes that long to kill the virus, it’s to a) make sure the soap gets pretty much everywhere (under nails for example), and that any viral debree is throroughly washed away.

    Reply
    1. shtove

      I’m curious about the mechanics of this: why is it necessary to wash the debris away?

      My idea is that the virus is like a gearbox, and once the housing is removed the cog wheels fall out of place and can’t reassemble themselves. So, once the soap molecule has tugged the lipid membrane apart, the bits ‘n bobs of the virus impotently go click-whrrr-buzzz while shaking their tiny fists in fury at the frustration of their master plan for world domination.

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      1. Phemfrog

        It’s not necessary to rinse for it to dissolve the viral membrane. But who wants to have a soapy dry film all over their hands? Get soap in your eyes and mouth if you never rinse…yuck. Also the soap needs the water as a solvent to work properly. So if you have the water to do the washing why not rinse it off when you are done?

        Reply
    2. rd

      The reason for the long clean is get the dirt etc. that the virus can be embedded in off as well as expose the virus to the soap which dismantles its structure. So the surfactant and physical abrasion get rid of dirt and fluids that could be harboring and protecting the virus. Exposed virus is killed by the soap. But if the soap can’t get to the virus, then it can’t kill it, But if it is physically removed and washed away, it doesn’t matter if the virus is alive or dead.

      That is why it works best to clean a surface with a cleaner and then spray it with alcohol disinfectant spray which is allowed to evaporate as the polishing touch.

      Reply
  5. Katiebird

    I foolishly (and I won’t be doing it again) went to a hair salon yesterday. I’ve gone to this stylist for 12+ years and she was very aware of how nervous I was to be there. Several times during the visit she wiped down surfaces (with some cleaner that I couldn’t smell and reusing the rag)

    She was wearing a mask when I came in. So I felt kind of OK.

    But while she was washing my hair, she told me that she had gone to a mask-less party on Friday night. That there were a lot of nurses there who said that the risk was minimal and not to worry too much. I began to get nervous. Supposedly 2 of these nurses had gone to NYC to help out in the spring but came back because it was all too much. Dead bodies sharing rooms with patients because there was no where to put them. HOW could these people be so carefree now?

    When I opened my eyes, she had taken her mask off and replaced it with a shield!! The whole time she was telling this story, there was nothing between her breath and me except my mask!!!

    She wasn’t happy when I asked her to add her mask. And she pointed out the gaps in mine. But she did put hers back on.

    And I left as soon as I could.

    I feel like an idiot.

    Reply
    1. Katiebird

      (I left out the punchline) So she is conscious of the importance of cleaning (even if it is probably not very effective) but totally unaware of the importance of not breathing on people. And the power of masks (not shields) to protect everyone.

      This area (Kansas City Metro) is full of mask rebellion.

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      1. Keith

        Medical people can be very lax. My girlfriend is a nurse at the hospital. During quarantine, we had visitors and she visited neighbors, who themselves had visitors and kids over playing with their. The two times I was in the hospital, nurses in a nurse station did not wear masks, also, I saw nurses and doctors walking the halls without masks, provided the had a water bottle or coffee in hand (apparently COVID fears beverages). To be honest, seeing their response has made me lax in mine.

        Reply
        1. Susan the other

          Our hospital here turned into a restricted zone. It sandbagged all entrances and exits except one and monitored everyone entering. If you could pass the quiz and the thermometer you were in, if not, you stayed outside. Then once everyone had been screened at the door they were free to go do their medical stuff. I didn’t notice a lot of wiping down surfaces but everyone had latex gloves on and masks of course. This was all because in less than a month our Covid count doubled from 350 to now 675. The cases in Salt Lake went from 6,000 to 18,000. Etc. So seems to be justified.

          Reply
      2. Phil in KC

        Katiebird, I live in KC proper but find mask compliance in my little area, the Ward Parkway corridor, nearly perfect, even at the QT. I went to the barber today, and everyone was masked up. However, I’ve noticed that people sitting at outside tables in front of bars and restaurants are (naturally) maskless and not distanced. Meanwhile, waitresses inside are spraying down all the empty tables and surfaces. In mathematical terms, 1-1=0.

        I work at a major medical center on the other side of the state line and have noticed disinfectant fatigue setting in among my colleagues and myself. Everyone on our campus is required to mask. The biggest offenders of the mask policy work in environmental services, and they are everywhere in the buildings.

        Mask rebellion seems more prevalent in the far suburbs and exurbs.

        Reply
  6. Jack

    The Atlantic article jives with what I have been reading recently elsewhere. One comment from the article I found of particular interest; “Many bars, indoor restaurants, and gyms, where patrons are huffing and puffing one another’s stale air shouldn’t be open at all.” I say this, because my daughter recently went into a Planet Fitness where many people were not wearing masks (even though we currently have a local county ordinance requiring their wear inside any commercial establishment). I filed a complaint with the code enforcement office and the officer who visited the Planet Fitness contacted me. She said they were wearing masks at the time she visited (come to find out later that Planet Fitness corporate had issued a directive just the day after my daughter’s visit that everyone was to wear masks in the facility). But the officer also told me that they were having a hard time enforcing the ordinance because there were too many exceptions. A medical exception and a social distancing exception. Those loopholes allowed people to avoid wearing a mask even inside. Apparently you cannot question a person if they object for medical reasons (HIPAA).

    Reply
    1. Keith

      It can be viewed as a form of discrimination. I have been waiting to see lawsuits regarding this. That being said, I think employees have been told not to be aggressive, as I have seen customers ignore the mask rule when walking in a store (Costco comes to mind), and after the employee says something, if the customer keeps walking, they do nothing. I saw one guy in the scooter and the employees didn’t even bother (probably the biggest sign of a disease carrier!).

      Then there is the whole issue of people wearing it on their chins off just off their noses, making it all moot, anyway.

      Reply
      1. campbeln

        To use the recent meme, d!ck noses abound. A household member is on immunosuppressants so we’ve been on lockdown since early March. Thanks to all the lax masking I’ve seen I wear a P100 3M Respirator in all indoor spaces. Communication is hard (I have to yell to be herd through it) but I feel this is the only way to have any level of guarantee of safety for myself and my household.

        Oddly… I’ve received universal praise/support with the respirator. The maskers view it with respect for going above and beyond, while a number of anti-maskers had made comments akin to “well, at least your mask will actually do something!”. Probably also helps that I walk with confidence/have no self-consciousness issues wearing it.

        Reply
      2. Yves Smith Post author

        The HIPPA claim is utter bullshit and a right wing meme. And no one has sued precisely because it’s garbage.

        If you are able to walk around without an oxygen supply and talk, you are fit enough to wear a mask. Your ability to enter a store unaided shows you are able. Even my wheelchair bound mother with COPD can wear a friggin mask and converse with it on.

        And a private business can set any rules its wants. No mask is the same as no shoes. They don’t have to admit those who refuse to comply.

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    2. CallMeTeach

      HIPPA has to do with your medical records, not asking why you aren’t wearing a mask. They’re wrong if they claim that. Too many people are misinformed. In my state, the governor put it in the mask ordinance that people cannot be asked why if they claim an exception, but then, my governor is an idiot.

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    3. marym

      Apparently anti-maskers want to claim that people medically vulnerable to contracting the disease should just stay home (or die), but that their own supposed medical vulnerability to masks allows them to transmit the disease and abuse retail workers.

      HIPAA constrains “covered entities” (like healthcare providers) from unauthorized disclosure of patient information. It has nothing to do with this situation.

      Retail workers can’t be expected to bear the weight of enforcement and shouldn’t have to endure the abusive behavior of anti-maskers. Maybe the anti-maskers should stay home for a while and give a listen to some lectures about class and solidarity and the common good.

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    4. John Wright

      One small retail business here in Northern California is enforcing the mask rule, despite being in a large warehouse with not a high density of customers.

      One worker told me that if officials inspect and find the business not complying, it could be a $10,000 fine.

      from https://www.ktvu.com/news/marin-county-will-issue-fines-to-people-who-violate-covid-19-health-orders

      “Businesses that are operating in violation of the health orders could face penalties ranging from $250 to $10,000.”

      While the local officials are concerned about businesses surviving, and fines will hurt, being able to tell customers that large fines are looming should help with compliance.

      Reply
    5. Arizona Slim

      Here in Tucson, the mayor mandated masks. Link:

      https://www.tucsonaz.gov/covid-19/city-face-covering-requirement-faq

      And she helped with a recent citywide mask giveaway:

      https://www.tucsonaz.gov/ward-3/news/pauls-note-friday-july-24-2020

      Since the mandate, I’ve noticed that some businesses have implemented their own mandates. Like, for example, Home Depot. Which, until recently, was rather casual about the use of masks in the store.

      Uh-uh. No more. If you’re no maskie, at the Home Depot, it’s no shoppie. And, no, they don’t hand out masks at the door. It’s strictly BYO.

      Reply
      1. Tom Bradford

        “And she helped with a recent citywide mask giveaway:”

        I think it would be fascinating to study, world-wide, the difference in responses to this thing in people with any power of public decision-making as between male/female. It certainly seems that a government level women prime-ministers, presidents or whatever have generally responded better than their male counterparts and this seems to be the case at regional and even local levels when discretion was available.

        I’d hazard that this is because the female recognises that the response to this transcends politics whereas for the male everything is politics.

        Reply
  7. The Rev Kev

    Having never gone to a gym in my life on the grounds that it sounds like voluntary work, is it practical to wear disposable plastic gloves during a workout? And if you coated your hands first with a moisturizer first, it would not only protect your hands but being inside gloves would help it absorb better into the skin than normal.

    Reply
    1. Keith

      I do not think so, if you are lifting weights. It would adversely impact getting a good grip on the bar. Add in that the gloves trap in all heat and moisture, it would make you pretty miserable, until at least the gloves ripped. That is why leather style gloves are often used, tougher material that protects your hands. I doubt any use for COVID, though.

      Reply
      1. The Rev Kev

        Thanks for that. I doubted that it would be a workable solution for hard work outs but thought it worth asking the question.

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      2. Yves Smith Post author

        Gloves are not meant for Covid-19 prevention. The possible transmission mechanism is getting virus on hands, then transmitting it to face (sinuses!) by touching face near mouth or nose or eyes. You can move the virus to your face just as easily using a gloved hand as a naked hand.

        The only time I use them is at TSA, where the bins are filthy and it is hard to avoid touching them, and I may not get to wash my hands any time soon. So I put them on shortly before TSA and strip them off right after.

        So I wash my hands in the gym, put my trusty alcohol on stuff I touch with my hand or use paper towels as a barrier, and also carry a paper towel in case I get an itch on my face, I scratch with the paper.

        Reply
        1. Olivier

          One reason to wear gloves is if you have wounds on your hands, even small ones. Otherwise I agree: it’s theater.

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  8. Shiloh1

    And for decades I thought that those baby seats in grocery carts and bars/restaurants putting the chairs and stools on the tables every night were not quite right.

    And wasn’t there a study a long time ago about how contaminated the free mint tray is at a typical restaurant counter? How’s about the menus? How about the silverware on the table vs on a napkin? Even Larry David knew that was bad. What’s the politically correct position on drink straws these days, especially in Portland and Seattle?

    Which side the door handles to open vs the push side for any public rest room?

    Meanwhile I’ll let you know if anybody freaks while I do my 7 mile wooded trail run today with no mask. It’s one place I’m 100% confident that I’ll never see the governor of Illinois.

    Reply
    1. marym

      There’s probably a lot of stuff on surfaces and in the air, ranging from harmless to dangerous. Influenced by science, experience, and foolishness we sometimes change what we think and do about it. So here we are, learning and reevaluating how we respond to a particular new situation. It doesn’t mean evaluations of other situations are right or wrong. So far as we know today, the Illinois governor is right about masks. Time will tell if he’s right about the sense of responsibility of Illinoisans.

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    2. CanCyn

      IIRC the restaurant mint dish problem (and a lot of other public surfaces) is fecal matter. Yuck!
      Standing waiting to get into a store today, I watched a clerk cleaning carts with a spray and paper towel, throwing out the used paper towel after each clean. But even though she wasn’t re-using a cloth, it didn’t look like thorough or effective cleaning to me.

      I used to think I wasn’t much of a germ-a-phoebe. But I think I am. I have long been a 30 second hand washer, tried not to touch door handles (long scarf or long sleeves come in handy) put nothing on the floor in public washrooms, careful about what I touch in stores, at the gym, etc. The surface COVID precautions didn’t trouble me too much and there are many other things we don’t want to get on our faces, in our eyes or mouths than the COVID virus. Best to still practice care but agreed that trying to ‘sterilize’ everything is not possible. And I am mindful of the ‘too clean’ allergy theory. Many oldsters would say that you have to eat a little dirt to stay healthy.

      I am also struck by underpaid retail workers having to police mask behaviour. It really isn’t fair. Our little local grocery co-op has taken to locking the door. They’ve added a doorbell and they don’t open the door if the ringer awaiting entry isn’t wearing a mask. At least that separates them from any anti-masker anger.

      Reply
      1. Katiebird

        I wonder of retails stores will start having bouncers at the door. People trained and prepared to deal with confrontational people.

        Reply
  9. Burns

    At the end of June I froze my gym membership for 6 months. I hated to do it, since the gym was my happy place, but I just couldn’t take the risk. Walking into the gym wearing my mask, I see a sign on the door asking patrons to please wear a mask when they enter. Ok, so I’m covered, but then I notice the four people who walked in before me aren’t covered. I hated it but at that moment I knew I was doing the right thing. I may cancel at the end of the year depending on how things are going.

    That being said, humans adapt. I’ve been pursuing calisthenics since the lockdown and have been hugely impressed. I was the typical gym rat for 25 years, thinking weights was the only way to get strong. Let me tell you, now I know that truly strong people don’t lift other things, they lift themselves. Gravity is the best exercise weight. Combined that with some basic yoga techniques, resistance bands, and light jogs and I’m feeling better than ever.

    Reply
    1. Katiebird

      I have been doing simple floor exercises (touch toes, sit-ups, leg lifts and push ups) …. What should I add to this as I go along (I do about 30 of each now)

      Reply
      1. cocomaan

        If you can add in pull ups, you’ll find that your upper body gets much stronger. It’s a good offset to the push ups.

        I struggled to figure out how to add in pull ups and discovered that the I-beam in my basement was not bad at all.

        You can also do “reverse rows” using a strong cloth draped over something static in order to build up to a pull up, which is a difficult exercise!

        Reply
        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Pull ups are very hard for women. The ability to do them is far more dependent on body weight than for men. If you are very light, you might be able to do them readily.

          There are vids on YouTube on how to do upper body exercises, an impressively large bunch, with resistance bands and anchors on a door.

          Another way to go is negatives. It turns out that muscle building does not come from the positive movement (lifting the weight) but the negative (the controlled lowering) which inflicts micro-tears on the muscle fibers. It’s the repair of those microtears that builds strength.

          So you can jump up or just step up (say from books or a sturdy box) to the top position of a chin, and then lower yourself. Work on getting a full range of motion (which you likely won’t have when you start), adding reps, and later slowing your tempo.

          Reply
          1. Katiebird

            When I first started doing the Push Ups, I started. In UP position and could NOT do them. I just couldn’t lower myself. It wasn’t till I started from the DOWN position that I could do them.

            Do you think those door straps they sell would be a good buy?

            Reply
            1. Burns

              I’d be careful with exercise equipment designed to attach to household structures. Things like doors and doorframes aren’t designed to take constant body weight loads, and that can lead to short and long term damage. For example, those door straps could potentially pull the door off the hinges/frame at some point. You need to make sure the anchor is going to be strong enough before you take that route.

              Another example is pull up bars that attach to door frames – after long term use they can damage the frame and the immediate wall area due to repeated body weight loads.

              In other words, really research and evaluate before you buy certain equipment and make sure it meets your fitness needs.

              Reply
            2. CanCyn

              There is a great book called You are your own Gym by Joshua Clark and Mark Lauren. Lots of great body weight exercises to do at home.

              Reply
              1. Katiebird

                Thanks! I just ordered it with a DVD collection. Sometimes it’s easier to do if i can see it done.

                Reply
    2. flora

      Thanks much for this. My local sporting goods store is out of all weight lifting gear. This body weight exercise is good idea.

      An aside: in my long life I’ve only known one woman who could do a pull up. This was back in high school. She was rail thin and strong. I am not disheartened by this. There are party games of strength and balance having to do with leg strength and body composition that women can win hands down and that men never win against women. ;)

      But back to the topic of calisthenics; very good idea. Thanks.

      Reply
  10. Dr. John Carpenter

    Excellent article. I’ve been thinking about Disney World and their reopening, mostly because I feel my sister is trying to justify a trip for her and my niece. Obviously, that place is different than the gym or grocery, but I’ve been curious if it’s even possible to make it safe at the moment. I wouldn’t go even without COVID-19, but I certainly would be going now.

    Reply
  11. T

    “More generally, the article takes an unduly black and white stance when there are plenty of grey areas and unknowns.”

    The unknown I care about: Who touched this or coughed or sneezed on it, and when? Droplets don’t magically become innert because they land on a surface.

    In my preferred grocery store, the cart handles are wiped and left wet to air dry so sanatized. In case that matters. (This store previously had cart wipes, which I never used and which are now gone.)

    However, there are people not wearing masks, shopping in groups, putting things back on shelves, and coughing in the aisles. The risk is low, in general, but real.

    I take the “bubble” seriously. If something is outside my control, it’s not coming in the bubble without precautions.

    Also, if you’re doing mutual aid – especially for people who are at risk – you need to not be a vector.

    As a converse, people get poison ivy from contact almost all the time. However, urushiol can effect people who are mowing or shredding plants and become a very dangerous aerosol when burned (don’t tell the police.) This is just to say that primary transmission is not the whole story.

    Similarly, Salmonella is known as a food-borne illness although people can catch it from sex and pets. (Presumably, sexual transmission is usually from people who are presymtomatic or who think they have recovered.)

    Reply
    1. campbeln

      I think the bubble approach is the best, but I also lend a lot of credence to the theater aspects of it.

      We use wipes on all items coming into the house, or leave them in the hot garage for a week or so. Whenever possible, we “shuck” items, leaving the outer packaging out and not worrying about the inner, untouched by human hands for some time if ever, items. But fatigue is a real threat long term, and since we are likely entering month 6 of a 3+ year ordeal…

      How effective is our wiping regime, really? Especially on freezer packages? I don’t know. But I also want to avoid having to be paranoid of touching my face when at home, so, for now… the bubble it is.

      Reply
  12. Andrew

    I agree about hygiene theater. We probably shouldn’t be totally blase about surface transmission, but I tend to think the right answer is to wash your hands, not hose everything down with disinfectant.

    I work in the disinfectant industry, so I feel obligated to comment on a few things.

    People have no idea how long it takes to disinfect. Lysol wipes need 4 minutes, and a lot of disinfectants need 10!

    That said, don’t underestimate the other disinfectants. Ethanol (kills at 60-70%) is actually not that strong compared to bleach (kills at 0.06%) and most other disinfectants. Note that that’s diluted bleach! Using the concentrate will probably take less than 5 minutes, but then you really are exposing yourself to a higher level of hazardous chemicals than you need to.

    Manufacturers have to prove under very tightly specified conditions that if you use the product according to the label, you will kill the viruses and bacteria you say you will. Emphasis on “according to the label” – read those!

    While most disinfectants haven’t been tested against the COVID-19 virus yet, it and other coronaviruses don’t seem to be any harder to kill than the basic organisms every disinfectant has to be tested against.

    Soap beats hand sanitizer for washing hands because it helps carry away microorganisms. If you really are concerned about disinfecting surfaces, I wouldn’t count on that advantage remaining – you don’t rinse your counters the way you rinse your hands.

    Reply
  13. Ataraxite

    “which is pretty good in NYC but readers report that some on trains pull down their masks to converse, gah”

    Oh, Yves, I can go one better than this. I was on the S-Bahn here in Berlin a couple of weeks back, and the lady sitting opposite me, pulled down her mask to cough.

    I gave her the dirtiest look I have ever given another human being, but she was oblivious to it.

    Reply
  14. anon in so cal

    >There seems to be a bit of tension between the knowledge that disinfectants take time to deactivate/neutralize the coronavirus and the claims that ordinary dish soap can break down its outer lipid shell and deactivate it. Anyway, here is the EPA list of disinfectants that was posted on this website a while back. The list records the amount of contact time necessary to deactivate the virus, for each disinfectant. Some of the disinfectants only take one minute. Needless to say, those can be difficult, if not impossible, to obtain. Many are only sold to medical institutions.

    https://www.epa.gov/pesticide-registration/list-n-disinfectants-use-against-sars-cov-2-covid-19

    >Separately, I still disinfect car door handles, steering wheel, etc., as well as everything that comes into the house. This includes milk cartons and dog food cans. I am actually afraid to use fresh milk unless it’s been brought to a boil. So, we used canned non-fat evaporated milk for coffee. We stopped using plant-based milk for the same reason. Given that we’re in a hot spot with high levels of community transmission, I don’t think this is excessive.

    Reply
    1. Yves Smith Post author

      “Only take one minute”.

      I don’t mean to sound harsh, but did you miss just about no one uses them that way, as in applies them and comes back later to wipe it off? They apply and wipe right away.

      Reply
  15. JEHR

    I walk almost every day for about seven kilometres. I also do exercises to help prevent a hump in my back which my female relatives seem to have inherited and passed on. I found a series of exercises to do to help prevent this hump from getting worse and have been doing them about four times a day for five seconds each movement. What I have found out is that those exercises were excellent for encouraging “the girls” to conform to their original positions in the bra. A two-for-one! :-) (I’m 80 years old too.)

    Reply
  16. Sheldon

    Cold does nothing, except extend the viability of the virus. In other words, the freezer will just suspend the time that the virus is degrading.
    Heat does work.

    We followed the 30 second microwave advice for U.S. currency. Upon picking it up from the rotating tray, it was really hot!

    Here’s a useful link:

    https://covidfactfiction.com/coronavirus-episode-12-does-a-microwave-kill-coronavirus/

    “In 2016 German study where the HIV virus was deactivated (AKA killed) after being microwaved at 800 watts of power for 2 minutes1. For reference, the average microwave oven these days has a wattage of about 1,000, so yours likely has more than enough power, but I’d suggest you double-check.

    “The second, a study published in a June 2004 issue of the Avian Pathology journal, where an Avian Coronavirus called IBV was killed after being microwaved for 5 seconds”.

    Reply
  17. Susan the other

    Thank you for that “progesterone” link. Crazy good info. Published in Nature. An impressive rundown on recent research into the effort to identify “drugs to target host human factors”, drugs already approved and used. There are some 69 in all. I find that very encouraging. The article itself was light years over my head, but I got the gist and it was comforting to know how sophisticated this viral analysis has become. It’s a viral protein to human protein analysis and the graphs are amazing. Very quantum. Almost. I’ve been sitting here fomenting a class A paranoia about all the possible mishaps there could be in a vaccine (the above research is about medicine for treatment and looks very promising) – I’ve been agonizing over the possibility that we are gonna do a vaccine which is rushed and poorly understood in context with the human immune system and then we will be quickly faced with having to a vaccine against the vaccine. And etc. Personally, I would much rather see good medicines for Covid19 than a hasty vaccine. Especially for kids whose immune systems are still developing.

    Reply
  18. Pelham

    Re gyms: Why go? I used to be a gym rat and never made much progress on my strength goals. Then I decided to avoid the expense and try something different: calisthenics, or body-weight exercises. They work! In the past 5 years I’ve made enormous progress with workouts 5 days a week lasting less than an hour.

    You do need some equipment. I use a simple doorway-mounted pullup bar, a kettle bell (for swings, great for the lower body) and a set of gymnastic rings — probably less than $200 invested in all. Get a good book on calisthenics and you’re all set. Plus there are all sorts of really helpful YouTube videos.

    Reply
    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I hate to tell you but it looks like you never weight trained well. This sadly is common. Most of the people I see training either are not lifting heavy enough, are lifting in bad form (so more likely to hurt themselves than get anywhere) or have a poorly designed program, with the result that they’ll plateau in a month-six weeks and wonder why they aren’t getting anywhere. I sometimes try giving people tips when they are doing something that runs the risk of injury if they keep it up (and I do ask first and make a positive suggestion, framing it as better form will = better results over time). 80% are appreciative, 15% look at me patronizingly or tell me they have a trainer (which is likely true, most trainers are not very good) and 5% gets pissy

      You need to stick with the same exercises (like 2 each for chest and back, 1 each for shoulders, biceps, triceps, and one extra for your rotator cuff, as injury prevention rather than strength training) and keep increasing your weights for a certain # of workouts, depending on your “training age” (the longer you’ve been at it, the more often you need to change, I have to change my routine every 6 workouts). You then change your routine. There are lots of ways to change your routine. The most common is to change the exercise but you can also change your loading parameters and tempo.

      To adequately equip a home to strength train would take up a huge amount of space. Even the mini-Covid-emergency gym I set up (bench, pads to protect the floor, weight rack, dumbbells 15-35 lbs at 5 lb intervals, chin bar, lotta resistance bands that turned out not to be useful) was not enough for me to maintain upper body strength and no way adequate for lower body, even with me injured and not able to train very hard for lower body. And even that cost ~$1000.

      Reply
  19. Elizabeth

    Speaking of security theater, I recently saw a news report about how airlines are doing everything they can to “keep people safe.” It showed the air cabin being sprayed with some kind of disinfectant and mentioned that all surfaces are wiped down before and after every flight. This reminds me of the TSA theater – the airlines aren’t going to spend a ton of money doing this since they’re losing billions. From what I’ve read, masks are required to board an airliner, but if people take their masks off or wear them below their mouth, no one enforces the mask order. Also, the airlines are filling the middle seat – I think Delta may be the exception, but for how long? I guess I just don’t trust any industry at this point to do anything meaningful.

    I think Katiebird upthread mentioned going to a hair salon recently. What she experienced is exactly why I won’t go. You don’t know if your hairdresser wears a mask in other places, or if he/she practices good hygiene, social distances or other such preventive measures. For me, life is on hold for so many things.

    Reply
  20. ProNewerDeal

    1 Is there any research/expert opinion that estimates the percentage of COVID Currently Infection persons that would be not allowed in to Indoor Establishments by mandatory digital temperature scanner checks at the entrance?

    2 Similarly on is wearing plastic gloves any better than applying hand sanitizer after leaving Indoor Establishment (like grocery store) & before opening home door (with either plastic gloves or gloveless I vigorous handwash once at home regardless)

    Reply
    1. rd

      Plastic gloves are pretty much useless except as very short term single use, such as handling a single item. Once you handle multiple items, almost everything would be contaminated. Plastic gloves are generally to protect you from absorbing contaminants through the skin, such as chemicals.

      I just rely on hand sanitizer and hand washing. Gloves give false security and make washing difficult, unless you are wasing your hands with the gloves on or spreading hand sanitizer on them in between picking things up.

      I do wear cotton gloves for some things related to Covid because the cotton will dry out the virus while keeping your hands clean. It will also hold onto organic things, like viruses, making it harder to trasnfer them from one thing to another. So I use cotton gloves for handling things other people handled recently, and then wash my hands right after I take the gloves off.

      Reply
  21. Mark hodgson

    SARS COVID 19 can survive on surfaces for a long time, hours, days and weeks depending on the nature of the surface, temperature, relative humidity and sunlight (UV) levels. Medical literature is filled with studies that show healthcare workers hands in contact with Fomite can pick up microorganisms and transfer between 10 and twenty times to other surfaces with the next touch. This is how we transfer many hospital acquired infections from MRSA and C. diff to Norovirus.

    COVID can be transmitted through droplet and aerosol as the major component of infection, but surface transmission is real and can cause infection in susceptible individuals. in about 6 months time we will likely be able to put numbers on the level of risk for each mode of transmission, but droplets transmit 6 to 12 feet and air in the air for a few minutes, aerosols are airborne for 2 to 3 hours and will travel long distances depending on air exchange rate and UV impact, virus on surfaces may be there for several hours to days.

    Reply
  22. juneau

    I think there is honest confusion over the issue of precautions partly due to a lack of understanding of the nasty nature of mild to moderate disease early in the pandemic. The chinese data overlooked this issue (understandably I suppose) but the fine print on some of these papers from the early pandemic reveal that mild to moderate included everything up to ambulatory pneumonia. (page 12 paragraph 2 points out pneumonia patients were included in the definition of mild to moderate). WHO reported that asymptomatic cases were rare in China.

    For some it may be an issue of do we really need to worry a lot or not. There is cognitive dissonance due to the mixed messaging. I personally have been careful to disinfect high touch hard surfaces, hand wash and mask any time I am out of my home near people. Apologies I could not turn off the link highlighting.

    Reply

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