Listen: Infections, Vaccinations, and Other Questions

Higgins: Okay, Jim, now we’re going to hear from Camie in Idaho.

Hamblin: Hi, Camie. How are you feeling?

Camie: As well as can be expected, I guess, under the circumstances. I definitely don’t have it as bad as many people have had it. So we feel very blessed.

My husband was in quarantine for 10 days. I’m actually in quarantine for 21 days because of underlying health conditions. My doctor just wants to be on the very safe side, which I appreciate. And that started me thinking that, when we’re done with this, what does that mean? Should we be just disinfecting when we recover, just like with any cold or flu? How much of this is sticking to surfaces, and what exactly do we have to clean? It made me think also about when the cruise ships came back and they were finding active, live coronavirus weeks and weeks after.

Hamblin: Are there other people in your household?

Camie: No, it’s just my husband and I, but we have a new grandbaby. We want to go see her, and I don’t want to inadvertently infect her when we go see her eventually.

Hamblin: Absolutely. This has been a point of a lot of confusion over the course of the pandemic. I and most other people making recommendations this time last year were much more about surfaces, about hand hygiene, about sterilizing high-touch surfaces. And then, over the course of the year, it’s really turned out that the virus doesn’t linger very long on surfaces. And when it does, it doesn’t seem to happen in infectious doses. You’re just very unlikely to get enough of a viable virus onto your hand after you touch something and then touch your face and infect yourself.

There are other infections that certainly work that way. But just because you are able to detect some RNA of that virus on, say, a cruise-ship doorknob or something, that doesn’t mean that someone who touched that would get sick. It’s kind of a fine distinction, but we had to play it safe at the time. So we sort of overestimated that and didn’t pay enough attention to air. It seems like surface transmission can happen from touching something, but it would have to be within a very short period. Say, someone came into your office right after you’ve been working at a desk for eight hours and then for some reason had to put their face onto your desk.

Briefly touching a handrail as you went down a staircase and then someone coming by an hour later and using that same handrail—that seems like as close to a zero percent possibility as possible. And so the time period in which the virus is persisting on surfaces at all is short enough that once you and your husband are clear of needing to quarantine, the surfaces in your house should not be expected to contain any lingering virus.

Camie: Should we stay away from the grandbaby, even after my 21 days of quarantining?

Hamblin: If you’re going to see people, stay outdoors, wear a mask, don’t have prolonged close contact unless this person is in your tight bubble and you’re all being really vigilant. But no, there’s no reason to expect that you’re at any increased risk of infecting other people in that period.

Higgins: Camie, thanks so much. And I hope you just feel 100 percent really soon.

Camie: Thank you so much. I so appreciate your help. Wonderful to talk with you.

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