Within the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, it felt just like the virus was all over the place — and on every little thing.
Some folks washed their mail or wore gloves to the grocery retailer, whereas policymakers cordoned off playgrounds and inspired companies to clean each floor.
However because the months handed, scientific consensus began to crystallize, suggesting a few of these precautions could be lacking the larger image of how the SARS-CoV-2 virus transmits.
The principle approach folks get contaminated, most main public well being officers and scientists now agree, is by way of publicity to this virus by way of the air, not by way of contaminated surfaces recognized scientifically as “fomites.”
But Omicron, the extremely contagious variant recognized for slipping round a few of our greatest defences, could be surviving longer on on a regular basis objects than its early predecessor — elevating questions on which fundamental precautions to stop surface-based transmission may nonetheless be warranted.
That is a key discovering from a brand new pre-print paper from researchers on the College of Hong Kong’s college of public well being, which is published online however has not but been peer-reviewed.
After conducting lab-based analysis, the workforce discovered Omicron “is extra secure than the ancestral SARS-CoV-2 on completely different surfaces.”
“Our findings suggest that (Omicron) has an elevated probability to be transmitted by the fomite route,” the researchers concluded.
“Hand hygiene and frequent disinfection of frequent contact surfaces in public areas are extremely really useful.”
‘Extra proof is required’
Constructing off other recent research which confirmed Omicron’s heavily-mutated spike protein is extra secure than the ancestral pressure, and their very own earlier findings on SARS-CoV-2’s degree of infectiousness on varied surfaces, the Hong Kong workforce explored what would occur if droplets containing Omicron — the BA.1 lineage, particularly — have been utilized to surfaces like chrome steel, paper, and glass.
In every occasion, infectious quantities of Omicron have been recovered for longer quantities of time than the samples of the unique virus.
On a number of forms of paper, infectious quantities of ancestral SARS-CoV-2 have been solely recoverable for 5 to fifteen minutes — in comparison with greater than half-hour for Omicron.
On easy surfaces, Omicron lasted greater than every week, whereas infectious quantities of the unique virus have been recovered as much as simply 4 days on polypropylene plastic and stainless and as much as seven days on glass.
“Extra proof is required to account for the elevated transmissibility of (Omicron) noticed in varied neighborhood research,” the researchers wrote.
“The additional virus stability on surfaces could also be one attainable issue and must be considered when recommending management measures in opposition to the an infection.”
Linsey Marr, a researcher on the airborne transmission of viruses like SARS-CoV-2 and a professor at Virginia Tech, agreed that the outcomes present Omicron appears to outlive higher, which may very well be contributing to its heightened transmissibility.
“This may have an effect on the steadiness of transmission routes favouring extra fomite transmission than we noticed earlier than,” she mentioned.
However Marr confused the examine’s circumstances do not mirror real-world eventualities. The quantity of droplets used within the lab analysis — 5 microlitres — may sound small, however it’s “really enormous in comparison with droplets we often spew out,” she mentioned.
Meaning the precise timings may not pan out for folks dwelling their each day lives, although Marr did really feel the comparability between the ancestral virus and Omicron was notable.
Virus ‘fragile’ outdoors managed settings
Different members of the scientific and medical neighborhood additionally had blended views on what this new examine really tells us about how Omicron spreads.
Emanuel Goldman, a microbiology professor on the New Jersey Medical College of Rutgers College, mentioned in an article published in The Lancet journal in 2020 that the danger of COVID-19 an infection from surfaces at the moment was “exaggerated.”
When requested in regards to the new Hong Kong outcomes, he mentioned any findings primarily based on the “standard strategies” in a laboratory do not change that, since determining transmission is about extra than simply how viruses survive inside managed settings.
“You are by no means going to seek out that a lot virus in a small space that you just contact,” he mentioned.
“The virus is fragile; these mutations have not modified that. It is nonetheless going to die in a short time within the atmosphere.”
Arinjay Banerjee, a virologist working with the College of Saskatchewan’s Vaccine and Infectious Illness Group, echoed that.
“Doing experiments inside a lab the place humidity is managed is one factor. Making use of that to actual life is a completely completely different factor,” he mentioned.
Daylight and humidity, for example, can each contribute to how lengthy viruses are capable of survive on surfaces open air, he famous.
The examine authors themselves did word the restrictions at play, together with the managed, lab-based setting and variations within the droplets used within the analysis in comparison with respiratory droplets, which can all affect the soundness of the virus.
It is also not clear precisely how a lot virus is required for a productive SARS-CoV-2 an infection, Banerjay mentioned, with extra analysis wanted.
Even so, he mentioned the findings counsel it is price being cautious.
“I believe we should not drop our guard in opposition to SARS-CoV-2, interval.”
Hand washing, fundamental cleansing nonetheless matter, consultants say
So what is the takeaway for Canadians who’re attempting to navigate a reopening society whereas mitigating the danger of falling in poor health with COVID-19?
“We have been so targeted on airborne transmission and masks that, possibly, we have form of uncared for to scrub our palms,” Marr mentioned.
Dr. Gerald Evans, chair of the division of infectious ailments at Queen’s College in Kingston, Ont., agreed that alongside different private protections like mask-wearing and vaccinations, fundamental hand hygiene stays a wise method to beat back this virus.
Common sanitization of toys and different gadgets in daycares and faculties the place kids are at play might also be useful, he mentioned, given how usually youngsters put gadgets instantly of their mouths.
However he warned the general public to not panic, and keep away from resorting to heavy-handed precautions.
“When you wash your palms — not obsessively, however simply thoughtfully and punctiliously — that is going to cut back any transmission you see on the market,” Evans mentioned.
“Definitely I do not need to see folks going again to wiping their groceries down with disinfectants and leaving issues sitting for days on finish within the hope that what virus could be there is not going to contaminate them. We all know that this isn’t in any form, method, or kind a significant transmission route for this virus.”