As we know, frequent cleaning and sanitation are two of the main keys to staying safe in this new reality of COVID-19. But conscientiously washing our hands and being mindful of social distancing are only part of the solution. As much as we strive to minimize contact with the outside world, we still have to engage with it on some level – whether it is shopping for groceries, retrieving postal mail, or accepting deliveries from Amazon or meal kit delivery services. Most often, the goods we bring into our homes are packaged in paper products – envelopes, shopping bags, or cardboard boxes – upon which pathogens may lurk. So how do we protect that last threshold? When we return from the grocery store, clad in a mask and gloves, how do we ensure that the bags we unload are COVID-free? Or, even in our excitement to see what Blue Apron or HelloFresh has sent this week, what steps should we take to protect ourselves? Let’s take a closer look at an issue facing us all – from those of us sheltering-in-place to medical researchers working in cleanroom environments to find a vaccine or a cure…
According to the United States Postal Service, more than 472.1 million pieces of mail are processed and delivered across the nation every day. This staggering number reflects the fact that the service processes 19.7 million mail pieces each and every hour (that’s 327,838/minute or 5,464/second if you prefer) and the work generates a daily revenue of $236 million. Not an insignificant endeavor. And given this volume of items it should be of no surprise that each and every envelope/box/package passes through potentially hundreds of hands. The Postal Service has neither the mandate nor the bandwidth to sanitize items in its care and so the question arises as to how safe our delivered mail can be. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the coronavirus is thought to be transmitted primarily by inter-personal exposure – spreading from one person to another in respiratory droplets. This is why the agency recommends staying at least 6 feet apart, wearing facial masks, and washing our hands as frequently as possible to mitigate transmission. Furthermore, cleaning high-touch surfaces (or avoiding contact with them altogether) with wipes is also strongly recommended. These surfaces include obvious candidates such as tables, door handles, toilets and sinks, but also keyboards, light switches, and elevator or walk-sign buttons. However, in terms of guidelines for those accepting mail or domestic deliveries, the CDC appears less concerned about the spread of the virus.
This is not true, however, for the manufacturing, scientific, or research communities. Outside of the domestic sphere, contamination control protocols do include a robust program of cleaning, disinfection, and isolation not only the non-porous surfaces listed above but for porous ones too. According to guidelines updated by the CDC in early May, 2020, ‘[i]f machinery or equipment are thought to be contaminated and cannot be cleaned, they can be isolated. Isolate papers or any soft (porous) surfaces for a minimum of 24 hours before handling. After 24 hours, remove soft materials from the area and clean the hard (non-porous) surfaces per the cleaning and disinfection recommendations. Isolate hard (non-porous) surfaces that cannot be cleaned and disinfected for a minimum of 7 days before handling.’(1)
This is good advice for items that are already in situ but what about goods that arrive from suppliers? In the event that a facility has access to an outdoor staging area, it is recommended that all items delivered in a cardboard box be removed – using gloves – wiped down and transferred to a clean tote box before being admitted to any workspace. If no designated outdoor staging area is available, a carefully quarantined interior one may be created – think of it like a de-militarized zone, or DMZ. In that space, it is advisable to don gloves, gowns, and other PPE to wipe down the outside of the packaging with disinfectant to remove potential pathogens. And it’s important to remember that cardboard packaging may harbor not only viral pathogens but also fungal spores, bacteria, and debris, and may have been in contact with insects or other vermin during transportation and storage. It also goes without saying that cardboard is a high shedder of particulate matter causing dust and debris which is why, of course, it is absolutely not admissible to a contamination-controlled environment.
NaDCC tablets (hypochlorous acid) will kill the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, the cause of Covid-19 in 10 minutes and will not corrode a surface like sodium hypochlorite.
For domestic consumers, emulating some of the protocols used by cleanroom manufacturers and processors can be helpful in preventing contamination from gaining access to the home.
Adopting the idea of the ‘staging area,’ for instance, is useful and an area such as a home’s porch or front stoop serves as a perfunctory DMZ or quarantine site. To safeguard their employees, the USPS recommends allowing mail carriers to deliver items and physically leave the property before the customer moves to retrieve it, and this is equally applicable to other delivery services. Using gloves, recipients can remove external packaging and wipe the contents down with disinfectant wipes before placing them into a clean tote and bringing them into the home. But remember that disinfectant products differ in their active ingredients and recommended contact time. The sodium hypochlorite in Soft Scrub with Bleach, for instance, requires a 3 minute contact time, whereas Comet Disinfecting Bathroom Cleaner, using citric acid, requires 10 minutes in order to neutralize pathogens. NaDCC tablets (hypochlorous acid) will kill the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, the cause of Covid-19 in 10 minutes and will not corrode a surface like sodium hypochlorite. (With this in mind, it is important to use disinfectants according to the directions on the label, to avoid mixing products, and to use no more than the amount recommended. Furthermore, it should not be necessary to repeat the CDC’s other advice: ‘You should never eat, drink, breathe or inject these products into your body or apply directly to your skin as they can cause serious harm. Do not wipe or bathe pets with these products or any other products that are not approved for animal use.’(2) For more information on selecting appropriate disinfectants for domestic use, a frequently updated list of ‘Products with Emerging Viral Pathogens AND Human Coronavirus claims for use against SARS-CoV-2’ is available from the Environmental Protection Agency website.(3) And, of course, a full line of industry-leading contamination control products is available from our website here.
Although our readership is unlikely to need a repeat of the warning against ‘off-label’ uses of disinfectant products, an article recently published in The Guardian clearly highlights that not everyone is as well informed. In the Bordeaux region of France, ‘toxicologist Magali Labadie reports a rise in cases of people rubbing bleach into their bodies – “the patients turned completely red!” – washing their hands in methylated spirits, causing irritation of the skin, or drenching their homes so thoroughly in bleach that it has provoked asthma attacks.’(4) The article also chronicles incidences of minors drinking hand sanitizer and even a case in which an individual ingested hair dye containing paraphenylenediamine in the hope of disinfecting herself internally.
For the record, the CDC does publish extensive guidelines on the proper use of bleach and products containing bleach. To wit: per the agency’s guidelines, the safe use of cleaning chemicals must include the following precautions:
- Always wear gloves appropriate for the chemicals being used when you are cleaning and disinfecting. Additional personal protective equipment (PPE) may be needed based on the setting and product you are using.
- Never mix household bleach with ammonia or any other cleaner.
- Make sure that employees know which cleaning chemicals must be diluted and how to correctly dilute the cleaners they are using.
- Employers must ensure workers are trained on the hazards of the cleaning chemicals used in the workplace in accordance with OSHA’s Hazard Communication standard.
- Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for all cleaning and disinfection products for concentration, application method, and contact time.(5)
As a premier leader in the field of contamination control, we at Berkshire go to extensive lengths to ensure that a full line of our products is made here safely in the US, meaning that we have control over not only the materials but also of the supply chain.
Despite the pre-pandemic world now seeming to be a distant memory, in reality – as the article in The Atlantic notes – ‘COVID-19 has existed for less than six months, and it is easy to forget how little we know about it.’(6) From its origins to its resilience to the reasons for its apparently precocious selection of victims, the virus still guards myriad secrets that we have yet to uncover. Even after 3 months of lockdown/shelter-in-place, we are still in the comparatively early days of the pandemic and it is likely that as time passes we will understand substantially more about how to protect ourselves. One instance of light at the end of the proverbial tunnel is the fact that, according to Newsweek, New Zealand has just declared itself COVID-free. With the last patient recovered and no new infections in the past 17 days, New Zealand will be able to declare the virus eliminated on June 15th. This success follows the ‘implementation of one of the world’s strictest lockdown measures, as well as their extensive contact tracing system. The country’s citizens recently endured five weeks at the level four phase of their lockdown. During that period restaurants were not even allowed to open for takeaway, a departure from the measures enforced by many other Western countries.’(7) So it can be done – with the right blend of motivation and patience. Perhaps the recipe for success in elimination COVID-19 is equal parts drive, patience, excellent hygiene, and an over-abundance of wipes.
How are you coping right now? Is the situation getting easier to deal with or do you have questions or concerns about controlling the spread of coronavirus? Let us know in the comments – we are here for you.