This week, the Centers for Disease Control finally confirmed what many—but not all!—of us deduced relatively early on in the COVID-19 pandemic; the risk of infection from surfaces is low. According to a recent report, the chances of contracting the virus from touching a contaminated surface are less than 1 in 10,000.
“We’ve known this for a long time and yet people are still focusing so much on surface cleaning,” Linsey Marr, an expert on airborne viruses at Virginia Tech, lamented to the New York Times. Marr is right—the notion that face-touching was the quickest way to get COVID-19 barely survived last spring—and yet, even as a reasonably well-informed person who regularly trolls the CDC website for pandemic-busting updates, I still didn’t feel entirely comfortable touching surfaces outside of my home until…well, today.
My fear of surfaces was emotional, not empirical; after all, it was pointed out last summer that the risk of surface transmission had been exaggerated. Habits are formed quickly, though, when you’re living through a pandemic, and scrubbing down my groceries with Clorox wipes in March and April of 2020 instilled in me a bone-deep fear of touching anything that had had contact with the outside world for too long. (I still feel weird sitting on an un-wiped-down bar chair, without knowing exactly why.)
I’m aware that it’s indoor contact that is most associated with spreading COVID-19, but earlier this year, before I got my vaccine, my anxiety hit a level so high that I unconsciously decided to take my fear of surfaces into turbo-mode. I already wasn’t seeing people indoors—hell, I was barely seeing people outside!—so my poor, addled brain settled on freaking out every time I accidentally leaned my bare arm on the subway pole. Did this make any sense whatsoever? Absolutely not, but try telling my amygdala that. Suddenly, the trains I’d taken every day since I was a freshman in high school felt like death traps, even if they were totally empty; thus, I quietly shifted to biking and walking more, telling myself I was being “outdoorsy” when I was actually just scared.
I don’t think my life will look vastly different now that the CDC has announced surfaces aren’t a huge threat; I mean, what would a more surface-ful life even look like, aside from, say, hauling a neighbor’s used desk in from a stoop sale without fear? Still, in these troubled times, I’m giving thanks for anything that we can rule out as a major COVID-19 spreading point, even if—as in this case—we kind of already knew it.
So, bye! Going to take the subway to Brighton Beach and sit on a public bench in short-shorts for the rest of my life!