Health News Digest

Slowing the transmission of COVID-19

December 14, 2020

Slowing Down The Transmission Of COVID-19

By Michael D. Shaw

As 2020 comes to an end, the pandemic shows no sign of ending with it. This December 9 story from the Washington Post bears the ominous headline “U.S. records more than 3,000 deaths in a single day, a new high.” Forget for a moment that attributing the cause of death to COVID-19 is dicey, and respiratory illnesses tend to peak in colder months. This number, or even a possibly more accurate version of it, is nothing short of scary.

From the beginning, people have been adhering to social distancing and mask protocols, as well as lockdowns–downright draconian in some cases. But, just how is the virus SARS-CoV-2 being transmitted? The CDC offers this information

Common routes of transmission from person to person are:

  • Between people who are in close contact with one another [within 6 ft (1.8 m)]. Notably, people who are infected but are asymptomatic can also spread the virus to others.
  • Through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, breathes, sings, or talks.

Less common routes:

  • Within poorly ventilated occupancies, airborne transmission can occur. Such transmission involves the virus being present in droplets and small particles that can linger in the air for minutes to hours. Unfortunately, in this case, the 6 ft rule is no longer valid. In fact, the airborne versus droplet controversy is an old one. The CDC itself states that airborne transmission is a key factor in tuberculosis, measles, and chicken pox.
  • Via contact with contaminated surfaces.

As to masks, most authorities recommend their use. Curiously, virtually all references discuss cloth masks, and seem to ignore the widely used disposable paper masks. At a recent visit to a local hospital, I happened to pull out a commercially made cloth mask, but was given a paper one to wear instead. Meaningful studies on masks can be difficult, since there are few standards on their manufacturing.

And even if someone were to run a carefully controlled study of perfectly worn masks using standardized materials, how applicable is that to the real world? About all we can say for sure is that masks do have some benefit.

In light of the upcoming vaccine, another mask controversy seems to be brewing. A recent New York Times article suggests that even after people are vaccinated, they will still need to wear their masks. The vaccine trials focused on how the new drugs would prevent those vaccinated from developing COVID-19 symptoms, but determined little about how contagious they could still be.

If you think this new wrinkle seems a bit insidious, you’re right. The news media is chock full of quotes from our political leaders who assured us that a vaccine would be the end point, and that life would return to normal. Only now, it’s “Not so fast.” How ironic that as we reach the touted glorious goal, we are filled with more doubt. The inescapable lesson is we need to take care now, just as much as before.

Which brings us to the matter of grocery shopping carts. According to Dr. Charles Gerba of the University of Arizona, the amounts of bacteria found on these surfaces were higher than those found in public restrooms. Listen to Michael Johnson, Utah State University Extension Grand County director: “When you think about the number of times a cart is touched in eight hours, there are all kinds of things that can get passed around.”

That’s why Scottsdale, AZ based Andi Barness-Rubin, a working mother of three boys who was frustrated with the thought of going to the grocery store and trying to keep germs off of herself and her food, created Cart Safe. These are easy-to-use patented recyclable shopping cart liners that cover the inside, outside, handle, and inner basket of any shopping cart.

Barness-Rubin told me, “Cart Safe gives you a layer of protection, that prevents pathogens from contaminating the goods you purchase. And these days, with COVID-19, such protection is essential. Cart Safe makes it simple and affordable.”