Since we’re evidently about to throw out our masks and forget about social distancing, can we once and for all stop with the hygiene theater?
For almost a year now, scientists have largely agreed that the risk of contracting COVID from a contaminated contact surface is low. Fomites stopped being our enemy for some time, but the obsession with hand sanitizer, disposable wipes, and spraying countertops and doorknobs continues.
This morning was my third weekly trip to the gym, and I got on a treadmill that was two away from the only other in use at the time. Fifteen minutes into my run, some guy gets on the treadmill next to mine, despite there being several others available. He wasn’t wearing a mask, like I was, but he decides to wipe down every surface of the console before beginning his run.
In other words, he ignored the two proven methods to prevent transmission while opting to perform an action that has little effect. And it’s easy to see why, because his chosen defense, ineffective as it was, is the least inconvenient for him, involving the least bit of forethought or consideration. I think that’s why we continue to disinfect surfaces even though there’s no science to justify the activity. It’s a brief action that makes us feel like we’re doing something useful, gosh darn it.
At the grocery store where I work, cashiers wipe down the customer conveyor belt after each order. When I check out a book from the library, a janitor sprays the self-checkout monitor. I walked into a bank the other day, and a teller wiped down the counter as I left.
When the next flu outbreak happens, as early as this fall, I have no confidence in our ability to fight it. Most of us will ignore the lessons we were taught this past year.
Sorry for the pessimistic screed today. I’m angry, and sometimes it’s better to express that anger than let it fester. I’ll try to find something more positive to write about for next week’s entry in this ongoing journal.