Hygeine theatre? Will deep cleaning help stop COVID-19?
We’re almost halfway through the summer and the strict COVID-19 lockdowns are starting to ease in many places around the world. As things start to open up people are gleefully deep cleaning every square inch in disinfectants and sanitizers, whether they need to or not. Anywhere you go will insist that you glob on some safety blanket sanitizer before entering, but is all this over-sanitizing necessary or even beneficial?
A war on common sense
This frenzied deep cleaning taking place across the world has been declared a war by some, but the scientific facts say that we could be doing more harm than good. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has clarified that COVID-19 spreads through airborne transmission and that touching a surface “isn’t thought to be the main way the virus spreads”. To date, surface transmission still seems quite rare.
Science says keep your deep cleaning to yourself
There were early studies of COVID-19 that concluded surface transmission is possible, but the critics of these studies pointed out that the concentration of the virus used in the testing were unrealistically high. An article in the medical journal The Lancet explains that to achieve the high levels of concentration used in the experiments, as many as 100 people would need to sneeze on the same exact area.
The criticism raised in The Lancet doesn’t mean that people should stop their normal hygiene practices, but that surface transmission might not be such a powerful factor. Still people insist on squirting you with gelatinous liquid everywhere you go, or dowsing entire cities with hydrogen peroxide, like one resident of Wauchula, Florida. There’s no spot too small to get a deep cleaning in an attempt to quell our growing anxieties.
Deep cleaning for COVID-19 might make things worse
Besides the possibility that all of this sanitizing is just theatrical hocus pocus, there’s a real chance that we’re doing more harm than good with this incessant deep cleaning. Money and resources are being spent on what’s been proven to be of questionable benefit, but also we’re creating the perfect environment for something much more dangerous and deadly than coronavirus, an antibacterial resistant bacteria.
As each surface is deep cleaned to perfection by OCD good samaritans, they’re killing all the weak bacteria and leaving only the strongest and deadliest bacteria. Back in 2019, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report that in 2019 2.8 million antibiotic-resistant infections occurred, killing over 35,000 people. This pales in comparison to the number of deaths related to COVID-19, but that’s not the point.
Deep cleaning our way to a world without penicillin
While sanitation anxieties ramp up, they will only speed up the process of creating stronger and stronger antibacterial resistant bacteria. If we create a super antibacterial resistant bacteria then penicillin will become almost useless and deepen our current health crisis. Before penicillin, 90% of children with bacterial meningitis died, strep throat or ear infections were deadly, and a simple cut might turn into an amputation.
When we do a deep cleaning we are essentially clearing space for a vicious antibacterial resistant bacteria to grow. Not only are we killing off the weakest bacterias, but we’re also reducing the competition any surviving bacteria will face. What’s even worse is that the sanitation blitzkrieg doesn’t even help stop COVID-19. All we do by sanitizing incessantly is to provide ourselves with a pacifier to ease our anxieties.
Deep cleaning gives us a false sense of security
The false sense of security that this deep cleaning creates is also dangerous because it gives us an excuse to be more careless with how we interact. People might opt to go to a crowded pub because the whole palace is sanitized, but won’t think twice about how close they are to the people they’re chatting with, and even less will think about wearing a mask.
So far the most reliable way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is social distancing and wearing a mask, yet people seem to want to do anything else. Unfortunately, the elaborate sanitizing rituals that we’ve developed have created a social expectation to follow suit, even though they may do more harm than good.