The science of masks and sanitising

It occurred to me that there’s a benefit to the Covid lockdowns, relentless sanitising and masking precautions that nobody much talks about. Yes, these help protect populations against Covid spread. But they also help protect against every disease. Certainly in New Zealand, it seems that rates of seasonal flu, colds and so forth are well down.


Science! And with my trusty slide rule I can stop the Plorg Monsters from taking Earth’s water!

Logically therefore (I say, channelling Spock), human societies should wear masks and sanitise all the time. Of course such a thing wouldn’t go down very well, I imagine. But from the science perspective it’s actually correct. Pathogens usually arrive in humans via the mouth or nose, either because some are airborne or – more often – because they’re eaten. You touch something infected, the virus is on your hand, you scratch your nose or touch food, then eat the food – yah. Boom. Or you’ll sneeze, depositing a viral load into the air. Then somebody else breathes the aerosol. Those masks? They’re not to protect you. They’re to protect others. And that’s true of all pathogens, not just Covid.

Which brings me to supermarket trolley handles. Just now most of the New Zealand chains are washing and sanitising them. To me, that’s brilliant. Not just because it is effective against Covid. It’s also because it’s effective against all the other nasties that also turn up on trolley handles. Especially fecal coliform. That’s right. Poo.

It never ceases to amaze me how much poo turns up on public surfaces – ATM touchscreens and buttons, fast-food joint touchscreens, supermarket trolley handles, the fold-down supermarket trolley seats for toddlers, fresh vegetables in supermarkets, your own phone (after touching all of the above). The science is clear – swabs and cultures taken from all these surfaces show that many of them have more poo on them than a toilet seat. Why? Because a disturbing proportion of the population don’t wash their hands properly after going to the toilet. Some don’t wash their hands at all.

I know. Ewwww. But there’s only one way that fecal coliform gets on those surfaces. And it contains a well understood payload of well understood viruses and bacteria. All of which are easily avoidable if people took the twenty seconds required to properly wash their hands, with soap, after doing their business. It’s not OCD. It’s sensible. So yeah – masks and sanitising helps against Covid. And it helps against everything else too.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2021

3 thoughts on “The science of masks and sanitising

  1. Eww, indeed. I heard or read about this years ago, so used the wipes some grocery stores provided at the entrance to wipe down hands and cart handles, even before Covid. I think the bottles of sanitizer are a better idea, though, because I suspect those wipes contribute to plastic waste. So yes, I hope masking when sick, washing hands, and wiping down public surfaces are habits that stay with us after Covid.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. lol – gee thanks, Matthew. Now I may not eat for a week. 😉 I literally had no idea all those surfaces are such poo-traps. Suddenly very glad that I get my shopping home delivered and wash everything before it enters the house. It’s not paranoid if it’s true, right?

    Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.