Why ‘Hygiene Theater’ Could Be a Waste of Time in the Fight Against COVID-19

Do you know the best ways to prevent contracting and spreading COVID-19? We’ve heard so much about this new virus that it can be overwhelming and even confusing at times to know just exactly how to stay safe and minimize risk.

Derek Thompson is a staff writer for The Atlantic, and he recently wrote an article titled “Hygiene Theater Is a Huge Waste of Time.” He’s not saying that there’s a new play coming to Broadway (whenever it reopens) called “Hygiene – the Musical.” No, he’s saying that all this sanitizing of surfaces is a waste of time and is giving us a false sense of security.

Thompson is a writer, so what does he know, right? This is not just his opinion. He talked to Emanuel Goldman, a microbiology professor at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, and Goldman said that it is very rare to get COVID-19 from surfaces since it is an airborne virus. Donald Schaffner, a food-microbiology professor who studies disease contamination at Rutgers University, also agrees that COVID-19 seems to spread through the air rather than on surfaces, and he provides has a case study to back up his claims.

So, why is Thompson referring to all this possibly unnecessary deep cleaning as hygiene theater? It’s a play on the term “security theater” as coined by his colleague Jim Fallows after 9/11 when safety measures (at airports especially) were taken to the extreme to make us all feel safer. It’s a false sense of security when the bigger issue isn’t being solved. So, with “hygiene theater,” once again, closing the New York City subway system at night for deep cleaning is all for show, to make us feel safer, when it’s quite possible that it isn’t the surfaces we need to be so concerned about.

Thompson is careful to state several times that experts still say hand washing is very important. He also points out the importance of masks, social distancing and embracing outdoor activities over indoor activities. 

We recommend reading Thompson’s article here for more details about why all this cleaning and sanitizing most likely doesn’t really make a difference. After reading, you just might decide to cancel that restaurant reservation.