Risk of Covid-19 infection via surfaces ‘overblown’, professor argues
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Risk of Covid-19 infection via surfaces ‘overblown’, professor argues

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The risk of contracting the new coronavirus (Covid-19) through an infected surface has been overblown in studies, according to a biology professor’s take in a leading medical journal.

In a comment for The Lancet, Emanuel Goldman, a professor of microbiology, argues that the likelihood of contracting the virus through contact with an infected surface, or fomite, is “very small.”

“I believe that fomites that have not been in contact with an infected carrier for many hours do not pose a measurable risk of transmission in non-hospital settings,” Goldman writes, citing several studies which bear little resemblance to real-life situations.

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In the article, published on 3 July, Goldman states that the conclusions of several studies have been based on results obtained in artificial, lab-controlled settings.

“None of these studies present scenarios akin to real-life situations,” he writes of four studies which specifically studied the transmission risks via surfaces of SARS-Cov-2, the new virus causing the Covid-19 pandemic.

Goldman says that the four studies used “substantially large” concentrations of the virus which would be difficult to come into contact with outside lab-controlled scenarios.

“These [studies’] concentrations are a lot higher than those in droplets in real-life situations, with the amount of virus actually deposited on surfaces likely to be several orders of magnitude smaller,” he wrote.

Further, Goldman said that in the one study he revised in which authors actually tried to mimic the “actual conditions in which a surface might be contaminated by a patient, no viable SARS-CoV was detected on surfaces.”

“In my opinion, the chance of transmission through inanimate surfaces is very small, and only in instances where an infected person coughs or sneezes on the surface, and someone else touches that surface soon after the cough or the sneeze (within 1–2 h),” he wrote.

“I am not disputing the findings of these studies, only the applicability to real life,” Goldman states in his piece. “I do not disagree with erring on the side of caution, but this can go to extremes not justified by the data.”

Goldman’s take was published as a commentary in The Lancet, a leading peer-reviewed medical journal which has published several articles on the new coronavirus throughout the pandemic.

The journal was recently in a storm of media attention following its retraction of a paper which halted Covid-19 clinical trials of the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine led by the World Health Organisation after The Guardian found inconsistencies in the data used by the study.

Gabriela Galindo
The Brussels Times