“The risk is low. Let me explain”
People are compelled to think twice about how they might be exposed to COVID-19 if they open a box delivered by package delivery service, touch packages at the grocery store or accept food delivery. The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) study stated how the COVID-19 can survive on those surfaces.
However, the risks aren't high enough from those places to be panicked about.
In his opinion piece published on March 26 in the Washington Post, Dr Joseph G Allen, an assistant professor of exposure and assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings Program at Harvard University's TH Chan School of Public Health addressed the issue.
Allen claims that the risk getting infected from those surfaces is not worrying as he tried to explain why.
"The risk is low. Let me explain," Dr Allen wrote.
Acknowledging that fact that disease transmission from inanimate surfaces is real, and is something humans have known for as early as the 1500s, Allen remarked that infected surfaces were thought of as "seeds of disease," able to transfer disease from one person to another.
The study claimed coronavirus that causes COVID-19 "was detectable...up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel."
Dr Allen stressed on the word "detectable", deeming it as a keyword.
"Yes, the virus can be detected on some surfaces for up to a day, but the reality is that the levels drop off quickly. For example, the article shows that the virus's half-life on stainless steel and plastic was 5.6 hours and 6.8 hours, respectively."
The term half-life is used to define how long it takes the viral concentration to decrease by half, then half of that half, and so on until it is gone.
Joseph G Allen stressed that the full causal chain would have to exist for one to get sick from a contaminated Amazon package at door or a gallon of milk from the grocery store.
Delineating, Dr Allen wrote: "In the case of the Amazon package, the driver would have to be infected and still working despite limited symptoms. Let's say they wipe their nose, don't wash their hands and then transfer some virus to your package. Even then, there would be a time lag from when they transferred the virus until you picked up the package at your door, with the virus degrading all the while."
He said that in the worst-case scenario, a visibly sick driver might pick up the package from the truck, walk to the front door and sneeze into their hands or directly on the package immediately before handing it over.
"Even in that highly unlikely scenario, you can break this causal chain," stated the professor of exposure and assessment science.
Allen said that in the epidemiological world there is a helpful way to think about it: the "Sufficient-Component Cause model."
"Think of this model as pieces of a pie," wrote the professor as he explained.
"For disease to happen, all of the pieces of the pie have to be there: sick driver, sneezing/coughing, viral particles transferred to the package, a very short time lapse before delivery, you touching the exact same spot on the package as the sneeze, you then touching your face or mouth before hand-washing."
Referring to the model, Dr Allen said the virus on the package is a necessary component, but it alone is not sufficient to get one sick.
"Many other pieces of the pie would have to be in place."
Dr Joseph G Allen also guided how to "disassemble the pie — to cut the chain."
"You can leave that cardboard package at your door for a few hours — or bring it inside and leave it right inside your door, then wash your hands again. If you are still concerned there was any virus on the package, you could wipe down the exterior with a disinfectant, or open it outdoors and put the packaging in the recycling can. Then wash your hands again."
The same approach applies for going to the grocery, he added.
"Shop when you need to (keeping six feet from other customers) and load items into your cart or basket. Keep your hands away from your face while shopping, and wash them as soon as you are home. Put away your groceries, and then wash your hands again. If you wait even a few hours before using anything you just purchased, most of the virus that was on any package will be significantly reduced."
Should one need to use something immediately, and want to take extra precautions, Allen advised to wipe the package down with a disinfectant.
"Last, wash all fruits and vegetables as you normally would."
Allen expressed that everyone should all be grateful for those who continue to work in food production, distribution and sales, and for all those delivery drivers.
"They are keeping us all safer by allowing us to stay home. And, as I said, the risk of disease transmission from surfaces is real. We can never eliminate all risk; the goal is to minimize it — because we all will occasionally need to go grocery shopping and receive supplies in the mail."
The professor put emphasis on basic precautions such as washing hands frequently, saying they put the risk of being infected "de minimis."
The opinion piece ended with Joseph G Allen writing, "The risks are small, and manageable."