The odds of contracting the virus that causes COVID-19 through contact with a surface harboring the virus is low, according to an update from the Centers for Disease Control.
New CDC research says that surface transmission is "generally considered to be low," and that the primary mechanism for spreading the illness is through respiratory droplets carrying the virus, which most commonly happens when someone is within 6 feet of an infectious person.
Surface transmission – known as fomite transmission – is also less likely to occur than instances of physical contact with an infected person, or airborne transmission (when smaller droplets from an infectious person remain suspended in the air over long distances for a period of hours).
In the second line of the CDC's release, it notes that the chances of getting infected through the touching of a surface is "generally less than 1 in 10,000."
The updated CDC intelligence is the result of ongoing studies of SARS-CoV-2 transmission, with the results showing "few reports of COVID-19 cases potentially attributed to fomite transmission." The CDC has found that fomite transmission is "difficult to prove definitively."
In the event that fomite transmission does occur, the CDC says it is most likely if a person touches a surface that an infected person coughs or sneezes on, and then directly touches their mouth, nose or eyes.
It comes after the initial outbreak of COVID-19 saw the sales of disinfectant wipes surge as little information was known about how the virus spread.
Nonetheless, the CDC still recommends washing or disinfecting hands regularly as a way of lowering the risk of surface or direct contact transmission. And it still says that cleaning surfaces is worthwhile, and disinfectant should be used if a surface has been touched by someone with a suspected or known COVID-19 infection.
Wearing face masks can also reduce the risk of surface or direct contact transmission by limiting contact between one's hands and one's nose and mouth.
The CDC's conclusion about fomite transmission is as follows:
"In most situations, cleaning surfaces using soap or detergent, and not disinfecting, is enough to reduce risk. Disinfection is recommended in indoor community settings where there has been a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 within the last 24 hours. The risk of fomite transmission can be reduced by wearing masks consistently and correctly, practicing hand hygiene, cleaning, and taking other measures to maintain healthy facilities."