In-Depth: After new CDC guidelines, doctors say it's OK to scale back deep cleanings

Fogger disinfectant cleaner COVID
Posted at 4:01 PM, Apr 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-18 21:45:19-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- During the pandemic, people have been sanitizing surfaces like never before, but experts now say some of that deep cleaning may be unnecessary.

New guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this month estimate the risk of contracting the virus after touching a contaminated surface is less than 1 in 10,000.

The agency says epidemiological studies, case reports, and other research show the virus primarily transmits through droplets in the air. Infection from a contaminated surface can’t be ruled out, “but the risk is generally considered to be low,” the CDC wrote.

Doctors say it’s safe to scale back deep cleanings with disinfectants.

“Some people call it ‘hygiene theater,’” said Dr. Christian Ramers of Family Health Centers of San Diego. “We should stick really with the things that we know work, and those are the basic things you've heard a million times already: masks, distancing, staying home when you're sick.”

The CDC advises people should still do a deep cleaning with disinfectants if someone in your home or facility tested positive within the last 24 hours. Otherwise, the agency says typical cleaning efforts with soap or detergent, good hand hygiene and social distancing should be enough.

Still, San Diego Unified School District said it is moving forward with plans for enhanced cleanings this school year. The district received $10 million in federal CARES Act funds for cleaning supplies, ventilation and PPE.

The district has already purchased 2.8 million cleaning wipes and distributed 24,246 gallons of hand sanitizer to schools, enough to fill a large backyard swimming pool.

Last year, AirBnb started requiring hosts to perform enhanced cleanings, prompting some hosts to pass higher cleaning fees on to customers. The company did not immediately respond to a request for a comment about the new CDC guidelines.

Studies on the risk of infection from a surface, known as fomite transmission, have evolved over time. Early in the pandemic, lab studies revealed the coronavirus could linger on some surfaces for days, prompting schools, gyms and other businesses to ramp up deep cleanings.

But in newer studies, researchers took the extra step of trying to determine whether the virus on surfaces was alive and capable of infecting someone.

“Finding RNA fragments of a virus on a surface doesn't mean it's alive, and we've learned to understand that,” said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease expert at UC San Francisco.

In real-world environments in Canada, Germany, Italy and Thailand, researchers found the virus on hundreds of surfaces, but were unable to find any sample that was capable of infecting someone.

Ricardo Buffara, the owner of SD Janitor, said demand for cleaning services has begun to shift.

Early in the pandemic, there was a huge spike in requests for the company’s antiviral fogging service in manufacturing facilities, businesses and schools, he said.

“People started reaching out to us right away. The demand was like 400 percent more,” he said.

But those requests have begun to slow down. The company’s core business, he said, remains standard janitorial services.

Buffara expects there will be continued demand for fogging, but perhaps not the daily requests they once received. Companies may want targeted treatments after outbreaks, he said, or more seasonal fogging around flu season.