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You don’t need to wipe down everything to protect yourself

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If you were wiping down every single Amazon package, can of chickpeas, and takeout container at the start of the pandemic, you certainly weren’t alone. Clorox, the world’s biggest maker of disinfectant cleaning materials, says it’s still recovering from high demand of its popular disinfectant wipes, not expected to return to shelves until 2021.

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In the beginning, we were all encouraged to take every precaution that we could. But do we still need to sanitize everything in sight?

With months of research now behind us, experts say the answer is probably not. Yet, that doesn’t mean surfaces present zero risk. Here’s how to approach things now.

Wash your hands, not your packages.

By now, we know that the virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person. And experts agree that your time is better spent washing your hands after you return from the grocery store than wiping down every item brought home.

Why? “While it’s theoretically possible that there’s fomite-related transmission—transmission through contaminated surfaces—we’re not seeing any cases reported that are directly linked to that,” says Patricia Henwood, associate professor of emergency medicine at Thomas Jefferson University’s Sidney Kimmel Medical College, and leader of the Emergency Medicine COVID-19 Task Force at Jefferson Health.

“Where people need to focus their energy on is hand-washing, masking and distancing,” says Henwood.

When you’re done putting your groceries away, wash your hands again. And then apply that same mindset as you move throughout your life. Pumping gas? Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer immediately after. It’s more effective, and more important, than later wiping down your steering wheel. Experts say the likelihood of getting the coronavirus from a delivery box is low. But always remember to wash your hands before eating. If your hands are contaminated and you touch your face, you could get sick.

“There are only so many surfaces you can remember to sanitize anyway,” says Thersa Sweet, associate teaching professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Drexel University. “If you’ve touched something that has the virus on it, and you wash your hands, the virus is gone.”

Risk of surface transmission is considered low. But that doesn’t mean zero risk.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that while it’s possible you can get the coronavirus by touching a surface that has the virus on it and then touching your face, “it’s not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.” But that doesn’t mean the risk is zero.

“I don’t want people to completely disregard the fact that the virus can be on surfaces,” says Sweet. “Imagine someone coughs into their hand, they touch a doorknob, and you come by two minutes later and touch the same doorknob, and then wipe your nose. You could become infected.”

Hand-washing, and paying attention to what you touch, are still both important.

“Though the risk of surfaces causing…

Grace Dickinson

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