The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated information on its website about how covid-19—the disease caused by the novel coronavirus strain SARS-CoV-2—travels to indicate that the virus “does not spread easily” on surfaces. However, the change comes with a big caveat: The CDC site says it could still be possible for covid-19 to spread in this way, and that people should remain diligent about preventative measures like hand-washing.
The change appears to have gone live on May 11, as NBC News noted and per records on the web archive. Before, the subsection on the page noted “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.” The updated page makes clear that while the virus does spread easily between people—specifically, through droplets and aerosolized particles dispersed into the air when we talk, breathe, sneeze, and cough—it does not easily spread by touching contaminated surfaces or objects.
The health agency further states that the risk of spread from animals to people is thought to be “low,” but notes that covid-19 can spread from people to animals “in some situations.”
To be clear, the CDC stated before and continues to note that while surfaces are “not thought to be the main way the virus spreads,” the health agency is still continuing to learn about how the virus spreads. In other words, the update doesn’t really move the needle too much in terms of what was already known about the disease’s spread. The CDC still states that covid-19 may be spread by individuals who aren’t showing symptoms, between people in close contact of less than six feet, and through respiratory droplets dispersed when a person is in close proximity to another individual. And just because the virus may not be easily transmitted via surfaces, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible, either.
According to the John Hopkins University coronavirus tracker, the global number of covid-19 cases has surpassed 5 million, with nearly 1.6 million confirmed cases in the U.S. alone. As of Friday, there were more than 95,000 thousands deaths in the U.S.—a figure that is expected to reach 100,000 by the start of June, according to CDC forecasting model data shared by the health agency’s director, Robert Redfield, last week.
The CDC still stresses that the best way to protect yourself against covid-19 is to practice the basic precautionary measures that it’s advised all along, including adhering to social distance of at least six feet, washing your hands often with soap and water or using a hand sanitizer that has at least 60 percent alcohol, and by disinfecting and cleaning frequently touched surfaces and objects. Wearing face masks is also thought to reduce transmission of the virus.
In other words, this new information is in no way a pass to start slacking off on doing the absolute bare minimum for protecting yourself and others. And please, wear a damn mask.