Temperature controls and “deep cleaning” are not good at stopping the coronavirus. So why do we bother? – National


If you’ve been to a gym recently, you may be asked to wash your hands, point an infrared gun at your head, and wait for an army of workers to sanitize all surfaces before touching a machine. – all in the name of safety. .But what difference do these types of measurements make when it comes to the transmission of the coronavirus?

The evidence is mixed, some experts say. And the measurements may not always be there for the reasons you think.

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Do temperature checks, which are currently performed at several Canadian airports. Some companies, like the Apple Store, also check customers before they enter.

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“We know it’s not effective,” said Colin Furness, infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Toronto.

“I mean, really, just like a screening tool, it’s not at all effective. ”

Since people can spread the virus even before they show symptoms, he said, checking a person’s temperature is certainly no guarantee of their health. Diseases other than COVID-19 can also increase a person’s temperature.

“And if you really want to get on that plane, you take a Tylenol and slide right past that temperature check,” Furness said.

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Even the United States Food and Drug Administration notes that non-contact thermometers are not a very good screening tool.

“Even when devices are used correctly, measuring temperature can have limited impact in reducing the spread of COVID-19 infections,” the agency wrote on its website.

“Some studies suggest that temperature readings alone may miss more than half of those infected.”

A recent comment published in the journal Travel Medicine and Infectious Disease also said that temperature checks on young adults were “virtually useless” for screening.

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Coronavirus outbreak: Temperature checks still part of COVID-19 detection although not all cases have fever

Coronavirus outbreak: Temperature checks still part of COVID-19 detection although not all cases have fever

Furness believes plastic gloves are also a particularly unnecessary way to prevent transmission of the coronavirus. Hospital workers wear gloves when dealing with things that could be absorbed through the skin, he said, but that’s not a problem with COVID-19.

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“You can’t clean your hands when you’re wearing gloves. So, in effect, you are making it worse. “

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The surfaces themselves are also of less concern than previously thought, said Dr. Stan Houston, professor of infectious diseases at the University of Alberta.

“I think people feel the evidence is disappearing as a major risk. And of course hand washing will mitigate that, ”he says.

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“I think a big effort to clean everything is probably an inappropriate goal.”

The CDC, on its website, notes that while it is possible to catch the virus by touching a contaminated surface and then your nose or mouth, “this is not thought to be the primary means of spreading the virus. ”

“There is an obsession out there that we have around touch, and it’s out of proportion to the risk of COVID,” Furness said.

“So people will be very abstinent from touching, but then they will hang out in a bar or restaurant where people are not wearing masks. And it is dangerous.

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While the public health experts contacted for this story all believe that the masks are an extremely effective way to reduce the transmission of the coronavirus indoors, Houston said it is generally not necessary to wear them indoors. outside.

“Any virus is simply massively diluted by the infinite space of outside air and dispersed by drafts.”

Furness agrees, saying that unless you’re in a dense crowd, there’s no need to wear a mask.

The Psychology of “Deep Cleaning”

So if these methods aren’t very effective in warding off the coronavirus, why are we bothering each other?

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In part, said Stephen Hoption Cann, epidemiologist and clinical professor in the School of Population and Public Health at the University of British Columbia, it’s because our knowledge of the virus is constantly changing.

“We’re just trying to keep up with the latest information released. And so, some things that have been recommended in the past may change over time, ”he said.

At first, public health officials were conservative in their advice, he said, and now we have a better understanding of how the virus spreads – mostly through droplets or through the air – but we stick to it. to our old ways.

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Why do some people strongly oppose health guidelines in the event of a pandemic?

Another reason, according to Steven Taylor, a professor and clinical psychologist at UBC who studies the psychology of pandemics, is that cleansing and other similar measures help meet a biological need.

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“A biological immune system is not enough to protect us from pathogens,” he said. So people have developed reactions to try not to get sick, which he calls a “behavioral immune system”.

“We are wired to avoid dirty surfaces as sources of contamination,” he said. We’re also determined to want to interact with people – so we cleanse obsessively, rather than social distancing, which would be more effective in stopping this particular virus.

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People also feel the need to “do something” to protect themselves, he said, and this extends to governments and other institutions, who want to be “seen doing something.”

“Cleaning is obvious, dramatic and demonstrable. You are actually doing something, whereas wearing a mask doesn’t do much. You don’t make any special efforts.

Because of this, he said, he sees psychological value in things like temperature controls and disinfecting credit card machines in a store. “It won’t have much of an impact on the spread of the infection, but it can calm people down.”

Coronavirus Covid-19: the psychology of pandemics

Coronavirus Covid-19: the psychology of pandemics

These things can also provide clues, he said, that remind people to keep taking actions that make a bigger difference – like social distancing and wearing masks.

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Staying in a limited social circle also helps, Hoption Cann said.

The same goes for minimizing time spent indoors, unmasked, with a group, he said. “Here in British Columbia, Dr. Bonnie Henry mentioned that many of the recent cases they are facing are private parties. So these are people inside, in contact with each other for an extended period of time, allowing the virus to spread from person to person.

“So in this context, wiping surfaces is not really going to help. Or even stay two meters apart if you have prolonged contact with a single person who can be contagious at the party.

“It’s best to avoid these situations altogether.”

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