Consensus seems to be moving away from the idea that surfaces are a likely vector for spreading COVID-19. Derek Thompson's article Hygiene Theater Is a Huge Waste of Time
is needlessly smug but the data he cites seem sound; the frequently-cited studies of how long SARS can survive on surfaces are based on laboratory conditions that don't reflect likely real-world scenarios.
But in a July article
in the medical journal The Lancet, [microbiology professor Emanuel] Goldman excoriated those conclusions. All those studies that made COVID-19 seem likely to live for days on metal and paper bags were based on unrealistically strong concentrations of the virus. As he explained to me, as many as 100 people would need to sneeze on the same area of a table to mimic some of their experimental conditions. The studies “stacked the deck to get a result that bears no resemblance to the real world," Goldman said.
The latest from my doctor largely corroborates that interpretation. Here's what he said:
It's okay to go to the grocery store, but wear a mask and stay away from anyone who isn't wearing one.
It's okay to visit family, provided they've been exercising proper caution. It's okay to go in their house, provided everyone is wearing a mask. Staying six feet apart is not as important as everybody wearing a mask.
It's okay to go swimming with other people (he was talking about a backyard pool at a family member's home with just a few other people, not a public pool).
That's it for what the doctor said; this is me talking again.
All that advice is consistent with the notion that the major vector for spread is droplets in the air, not lingering viral contagion from surfaces. You should still wash your hands and avoid touching your face, but the most important thing is if you're going anywhere where there are going to be other people, wear a mask, and stay away from people who aren't.
There's an argument that you can't be too careful, and if you want to stay in your house, only get groceries delivered, and wipe them down before you bring them in the house, that's probably not going to do any harm. Me, I've got high blood pressure and thinking about this stuff makes me anxious, and I also live in a place that's been setting records for highest number of days over 110 degrees, so on balance I think I'm at greater health risk standing outside and wiping down groceries, or just worrying about whether I should be doing it, than I am at just not doing it. (Wash your produce before you eat it, though; all the usual food preparation sanitation rules still apply.)
It's still best to avoid large groups of people, and especially large groups of people where you can't be sure they're going to keep their damn masks on. And if you can do everything you need to do from home, it's not a bad idea.
But stress isn't good for you either. And I think it's probably been good for me to readjust the things I'm worried about. Worrying about the right things can keep you safe, but worrying about the wrong things doesn't help and may actually be bad for your health.
I haven't left the house in nearly three months except to get my allergy shots and to walk the dog around the neighborhood. I'm thinking it might be good for me to relax that a little bit. Tomorrow it's only supposed to be 105 out; I'm thinking about going downtown to the comic shop, the farmers' market, and the liquor store.