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Scientists downplay sanitizing efforts as key to stopping COVID-19, say focus on air, report

Culturally, there is now an obsession with cleaning surfaces, it may do little to prevent the spread of the virus

Updated: November 19, 2020 - 10:00am

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A top National Institute of Health scientist is downplaying efforts to sanitize surfaces as a major effort toward stopping the spread of the coronavirus. 

"In my opinion, a lot of time, energy and money is being wasted on surface disinfection and, more importantly, diverting attention and resources away from preventing airborne transmission," Dr. Kevin P. Fennelly, an NIH respiratory infection specialist, told The New York Times.

Fennelly is among health experts and scientists who now say hand washing and cleaning surfaces is still a key part of keeping health. However, the greater risk is contracting the virus through the air from infected people exhaling, especially indoors. So the focus should be on improving ventilation and filtration of indoor air, according to The Times report.

One expert in the report downplayed the effectiveness of deep-cleaning efforts around the world, including those on subway cars and inside a Hong Kong airport that has so-called "full-body disinfection channels" that spray sanitizer on employees. 

"I can't understand why anyone would think that disinfecting a whole person would reduce the risk of transmitting virus," Dr. Shelly Miller, an aerosols expert at the University of Colorado Boulder, said in The Times report. 

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