It's official: Covid-19 spreads through the air. But that doesn't mean you should ditch your disinfecting routine.
In May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that surfaces are "not the primary way the virus spreads." Then, in October, department officials stated that the virus spreads primarily through the air via lingering droplets exhaled from infected individuals.
The physical act of cleaning--referred to as "hygiene theater" by The Atlantic--is likely here to stay, even though, from an infection-control standpoint, there's limited benefit.
Psychologically, however, it's a comfort for both staff and the public, which has only managed a tepid return to in-person businesses, if at all. "Theater shows that it's not that you're just complying with CDC guidelines, but that you're going the extra mile," says Denise Rousseau, professor of organizational behavior and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University. "It signals care and investments in protections and overall health."
But there's also a potential downside to your company's hypercleaning regimen. "Going too above-and-beyond might send the wrong message to your employees--that the workspace might be more unsafe than it really is," says Benjamin F. Miller, a psychologist, mental health expert, and chief strategy officer of Well Being Trust. Requesting that employees adopt extensive testing or cleaning routines without a valid explanation of why may also dampen morale and could actually induce severe anxiety.
Inconsistency of protocols can also lead to anxiety among staffers, says Miller. If some employees do whatever they want while others are more conscientious, it could cause distress. By contrast, he adds: "Consistent routines, rituals, or tasks, any time that they're done over and over and over again, do help lower people's anxiety and stress."
Regardless of the school of thought you follow, keeping a workspace clean is generally a good idea, especially during cold and flu season. The CDC recommends routine cleaning and disinfecting as part of reducing the risk of Covid-19 exposure.
Soap and water are generally good enough for most surfaces. Those frequently touched by multiple people, such as door handles, desks, phones, light switches, and faucets should be cleaned and disinfected at least daily. Requiring employees to wash their hands frequently and providing hand sanitizer for customers should also be part of the equation.
It might be better to direct resources to the prevention of airborne transmission by focusing on improving ventilation and filtration of indoor air, Kevin P. Fennelly, a respiratory infection specialist with the U.S. National Institutes of Health, told The New York Times. This can be done by improving airflow and increasing the mix of outdoor air into your indoor space.
Also, when possible, use high-grade HVAC or HEPA filters and operate them at maximum outside airflow for two hours before and after occupied times. If you're renting, you'll need to convince your landlord that the upgrade is worthwhile. Citing the CDC's guidelines that suggest improvements in HVAC maintenance could help.