CDC Hides Data - No One Got COVID From Surfaces

Pandemic Panic: The Psychological Reason People Can’t Stop Sanitizing

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In the middle of the pandemic last June, I had dinner with Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Stephen Hahn. We ate outside at a casual restaurant in downtown DC. There were only a few other patrons and the streets and sidewalks were mostly empty, even at rush hour. 

Dr. Hahn was trying to convince me to take a job at the FDA, doing communications for the pandemic response. We didn’t wear masks. We didn’t wash our hands before sharing an appetizer. 

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The waiter, however, wore both a mask and gloves, despite the wretched heat and humidity that night. We asked if he minded that we didn’t do the same. 

He said the mask was hot, but he preferred wearing gloves because it was easier than the required washing his hands every time he touched something on a table. This was after the CDC said in May 2020 that studies so far showed that transmission of COVID on surfaces was very unlikely. 

Dr. Hahn and I talked for about two hours about the administration’s response to the COVID pandemic, the treatments for the virus that were coming down the pike and the challenges facing the FDA to get the public to take a vaccine when it was likely to be approved in the fall. 

Toward the end of the dinner, I said to Hahn that the biggest challenge was educating the public on what was a legitimate fear about COVID and what was a panicked response from a nation traumatized by the lock downs. 

“This county has a psychological crisis more than the health crisis. They have some sort of PTSD from the lockdowns,” I said. “Like my parents are still wiping down grocery bags after they’re delivered. People are terrified of everything.”

“You’re absolutely right,” Dr. Hahn said. “They have learned helplessness.”

Learned helplessness is a psychological term coined in the late 1960s from studies that showed people who repeatedly face negative and uncontrollable situations will stop trying to change things, even when they are able to do so. 

Almost a year after being told COVID is not transmitted on surfaces, people who are are still wiping down surfaces, avoiding touching door handles and wearing gloves in public places have learned helplessness. They have stopped trying to think for themselves and instead follow the direction given by the government in the beginning of the pandemic. 

The CDC guidance this week should help the public get past the psychological block. 

The agency announced more definitively about the likelihood of the virus being spread on surfaces. The CDC guidelines say that “there is little scientific support for routine use of disinfectants in community settings, whether indoor or outdoor, to prevent” COVID transmission.

The CDC put some numbers to the research. It estimated that each time a person touched a surface that has a live COVID virus on it, there is a less than 1 in 10,000 chance of it causing an infection. 

This does not mean that every time you touch, say, a grocery store cart handle that you have a 1 in 10,000 chance of getting COVID. It means that every time you touch a grocery cart that has a live COVID virus on it from someone who sneezed or otherwise put it there recently, then you only have a 1/10,000 chance of getting COVID. 

It’s such a low probability that you could probably go push every grocery cart in America and not get COVID. 

Yet,  grocery stores are still wiping down carts between customers.  People who are still sanitizing their food and packages that get delivered. They are still stockpiling Lysol wipes to disinfect the home, even though the CDC says this is only useful if someone in your home has COVID. 

And my pet peeve— doctors offices, gyms and salons with sign-in sheets that separate out “clean” and “used” pens.

The CDC still won’t say definitely that you can’t get COVID from a surface. This week’s report says:

However, it is not clear what proportion of SARS-CoV-2 infections are acquired through surface transmission. There have been few reports of COVID-19 cases potentially attributed to “surface transmission.”

I wanted to read about the cases in the “few reports” of getting COVID from a surface because I can’t find any in tracing reports from health agencies. 

To back up the claim of the “few reports” of surface spread, the CDC cites two reports in the footnotes. In this Annals of Internal Medicine report, the researchers only claim that, “Reports suggesting fomite transmission are circumstantial.” (Formite is the scientific word for surfaces.)

In fact, after going through the possible spots in the world where the exact source of spread could not be determined, the researchers concluded that, 

On the basis of currently available data, we suspect that the levels of viral RNA or live virus transiently remaining on surfaces are unlikely to cause infection, especially outside of settings with known active cases.

The second report cited is this NIH published research which says:

“Indirect transmission of COVID-19 has been assumed to be possible via fomites although direct evidence is currently not available,”

Whether infectious SARS-CoV-2 may be detected in a relevant amount on various surfaces in public when only a short exposure to potentially infected, may be even asymptomatic people exists, is currently unknown but very unlikely.

So has anyone gotten COVID from surfaces?  I’ve been trying to find a single definitive case and cannot.

The CDC should say directly that no one has gotten COVID from a surface. The government health agencies need to stop promoting fear and start prompting the end of the pandemic and the return to our normal lives. Americans will not be able to get out of learned helplessness until they are taught how to help themselves back from this pandemic. 


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LET’S DISCUSS PANDEMIC 2021: Do you think Americans have “learned helplessness”?

What can we do to push people to get over their fears?

How can we push back against government dictates that are wrong?

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