The CDC updated their COVID-19 cleaning guidelines. What does this mean?

On April 5, 2021, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated several of their website pages with new guidelines for cleaning for COVID-19. Many news outlets picked up on the story, with some simplifying these changes with headlines saying it’s time to forget about disinfecting surfaces.

The truth of the matter is, of course, much more complicated.


Why did the guidelines change?

First, it’s important to understand why these changes are taking place. Throughout the past year, there have been multiple scientific studies done about COVID-19. After all, it was important to learn everything we could about the virus so we could prevent its spread and ultimately end the pandemic.


The same day that the guidelines changed, the CDC also published a science brief that explained the rationale behind the new guidelines. You can read the full brief here.

Janitronics technician wiping down table with blue microfiber cloth

The following is quoted from the conclusion of the scientific brief, emphasis added:


People can be infected with SARS-CoV-2 through contact with surfaces. However, based on available epidemiological data and studies of environmental transmission factors, surface transmission is not the main route by which SARS-CoV-2 spreads, and the risk is considered to be low.


Most of the studies that the brief references show that almost all COVID-19 particles on a surface are gone within three days if no cleaning is done. (This is also done in “typical indoor environmental conditions” which they noted can be different from real world conditions.) Then there is the additional factor of getting that virus from the surface to inside a human body, which was not accounted for.


When this is all put together, the spread of COVID-19 through surface contact is much lower than was first believed, and is lower than the spread through air droplets and similar methods.


What are the new CDC guidelines?

The new CDC guidelines do not get rid of cleaning guidelines, but they do relax them.


Soap and water are the main method of cleaning recommended for most situations. Disinfection is recommended for times when someone is sick or has tested positive for COVID-19, even if they aren’t showing symptoms.


Earlier guidelines recommended much more cleaning, and even included “Clean surfaces using soap and water, then use disinfectant.” While these new guidelines sound very similar, they have been updated to reflect the latest scientific findings.


Otherwise, many of the other cleaning guidelines remain the same. If you or someone else in the indoor environment have comorbidities or are otherwise likely to get sick, careful and detailed cleaning is still recommended. High-touch surfaces remain a high priority when cleaning. And when someone has COVID-19, strict surface cleaning is still necessary.


Also, in both sets of guidelines, hand washing remains highly emphasized.


Most of these new guidelines are explained on CDC’s “Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Home” page.


Did the original guidelines overreact?

Simple answer: no.


COVID-19 has been called a “novel coronavirus.” This means that the virus strain has never been documented in humans before, even if other coronaviruses have. It is one of the reasons that it became a pandemic in the first place; without any previous exposure ever, the human immune system did not know how to fight it off, resulting in large numbers of people getting sick and overwhelming medical facilities in some areas.


The other problem with novel viruses is that no one knows how the virus spreads nor how long the virus remains contagious. Guesses can be made based on information from other coronavirus variants, but it’s not always accurate. In this case, while SARS and COVID-19 have many similarities, COVID-19 proved to be much more contagious.


The original CDC guidelines exercised every reasonable precaution they thought would help keep COVID-19 from spreading to more people. Now, a year after the pandemic started, we know much more about the virus and know what works and what doesn’t. We can look back and say that some guidelines weren’t necessary. But when we were facing an unknown virus without all of that knowledge? Precaution was necessary.


The CDC revises and continues to revise their guidelines as science produces more rigorous studies. This is not just limited to COVID-19; you can go through the website for any number of health-related topics, and follow the revisions made to each one based on new discoveries and studies.

This won’t be the last revision to COVID-19 guidelines, either. As vaccines are distributed and we track new COVID-19 variants, we’re going to learn new information. The CDC will continue to update their guidelines as we navigate through the end of this pandemic.


Detailed Cleaning

While the cleaning guidelines have been updated, it’s important to understand that they haven’t been removed. Detailed cleaning is still necessary, especially in public or communal spaces like offices and workspaces.


Janitronics remains committed to providing the level of cleaning you deserve. We will work with you to make sure that your environment remains clean and healthy for everyone who enters.


To reach out to us, use our contact form here.