When the pandemic began, everyone was frantically trying to figure out the best ways to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. At that time, we understood little about how the disease worked. Over the past months, however, scientists have learned a lot, and some of those habits that we developed at the beginning of the pandemic in attempts to keep ourselves and our communities safe are no longer necessary.
“I think that we are all learning to be more flexible and willing to change our behaviors as we learn more,” said Patty Hamilton, public health director for the city of Bangor. “Because of COVID, we are learning to examine the science and make changes more quickly than in the past.”
Perhaps the biggest change is that we are no longer constantly cleaning things coming into our homes like boxes and store-bought produce. At the beginning of the pandemic, concerned citizens were leaving packages and bags of groceries outside for days or cleaning fruit with bleach. That, science has since learned, isn’t necessary.
“We’ve learned that the cleaning of surfaces or leaving our groceries in the garage for days are not the main ways we can protect our health,” said Bob Fowler, director of Portland Public Health.
Another thing that scientists have learned is that our pets don’t pose a threat to us, so no need to socially isolate Fido if he gets a little too friendly on your daily walk.
“The virus doesn’t linger on the fur of our dogs and cats,” Fowler said.
Other things, though, have proven to be more important than we realized.
“As more information has become available about surface transmission of the virus, the early recommendation to wipe down groceries and some surfaces have become less important than abiding by precautions that limit airborne transmission of the virus,” Jackie Farwell, communications director at the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, said. “In that vein, the U.S. [Centers for Disease Control] recently revised its guidance to note that wearing a face covering can protect the wearer as well as those to whom the wearer could transmit the virus.”
Likewise, we now know that regular hand washing and physical distancing are also important.
“We have learned that a fairly simple four-part formula works: wearing a mask, washing our hands, maintaining our physical distance, and avoiding large gatherings,” Fowler said. “We’re seeing very little infectious disease spread in healthcare settings — arguably among the most risky of environments — when people employ these measures.”
Even though we know a lot about the virus now that we didn’t in March, Fowler warned that there is still a lot that we don’t know — and, moreover, there is a fair amount of disinformation out there.
For example, Fowler said that there is a belief that face coverings aren’t effective in preventing the spread of the coronavirus, though science overwhelmingly shows that they are. Some also believe that COVID-19 is no worse than the flu (“It is,” he said) and that the increasing number of cases is because of increased testing, which is also not true.
“There is so much inaccurate information out there,” Fowler said. “There is skepticism among some that there were shortcuts taken with the development of the COVID-19 vaccines that makes them unsafe. That’s inaccurate. We all need to do our part to keep ourselves and our communities safe through this difficult winter, and then get vaccinated next year as vaccines become widely available.”