"Hygiene Theater" doesn't reduce the risk of COVID-19

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/07/30/hygiene-theater-doesnt-r.html


I think your use of the word “theater” in this context is incorrect. Theater is for the benefit of others. In your example of disinfecting groceries and the like, this is for the “benefit” of yourselves. This term also ignores how science works. Of course past information was incorrect, and our actions based on that information may now seem as though they were completely pointless. But we can only act on the information that we have.

There’s a big difference between “We now have information that can lower your hygiene efforts and anxiety.” and calling it “Hygiene Theater”.


Well, the only reason that it’s “theatre” is because the virus in this case doesn’t transmit via surface.

With Ebola, it is most certainly not theater, where it not only transmits by surfaces, the virus burrows into your body from any contact (no mucous membrane required!)

EDIT: Sorry was dead wrong about that. Contact has to be with broken skin or mucous membranes. but there are diseases for which all they have to do is touch your skin (like Bilharzia, althought that’s a parasitic worm).


This is an excellent point. Given the apparent widespread ignorance of germ theory re: Covid-19, it is unreasonable to expect that some significant portion of the population can distinguish between appropriate efforts for one disease as being necessarily more rigorous than another.


I’m okay with hygiene theater. I think it’s very responsible for people to be washing their hands and cleaning surfaces, and even cleaning groceries. This is the first year that I and Mrs. Mongrove avoided any kind of illness during cold and flu season. Neither of us got so much as the sniffles. We for sure tightened our habits (Mrs. Mongrove has a compromised immune system, so we’re careful about hygiene anyway), but we didn’t get sick because everyone else also tightened theirs.


Herman Cain just collected his darwin award for not wearing a mask.

Dead of covid.


Excellent post. I only recently stopped sanitizing groceries because of a) near elimination of COVID cases in my area and b) increasing evidence that aerosol transmission is the likeliest scenario with the heightened awareness and protection measures that have been implemented. That being said, if we have a resurgence here in NY, I’ll go right back to it. To think that you can’t get it from surfaces that someone has wiped their snot on is some wishful thinking.

Always relevant:


I would be more comfortable sharing this if it didn’t come in the form of an op-ed, and Goldman’s linked article didn’t present its conclusion prefaced with, “In my opinion…”


Wearing a mask while driving alone always looks like Hygiene Theater to me.


the chance of transmission through inanimate surfaces is very small, and only in instances where an infected person coughs or sneezes on the surface, and someone else touches that surface soon after the cough or sneeze (within 1–2 h)

Handles on doors; bus and train grab handles; public staircase and escalator banisters etc., etc. all those places that you might reasonably expect a significant number of people to pass through in an hour or two.


To me, it’s not theater at all, it’s a way of avoiding cross contamination by not touching your mask given that you don’t have a safe place to put it that doesn’t risk cross-contamination nor a replacement for it if you were just to throw it away every time you got into the car.

In a perfect world, we would have all the high quality N95 PPE we could use and wouldn’t have to wear our PPE in cars. But right now we don’t.


Valid point. We don’t live in a high case count area, and surface transmission is supposed to be less of an issue, so I just stuff the cloth mask back in it’s spot.


I assumed a hygiene theater is where they show hygiene films


The problem with doing two things that are absolutely useful and then things that while not useless are statistically difficult to distinguish from useless is:

  • Most people don’t bother to do 12 things
  • people that do all 12 at first eventually do only 11, then 10, and eventually just a few
  • when people drop an item out of that list it isn’t normally the least effective it is either the biggest pain in the Ass, or just plain the one they are about to do when exhausted

You really want to focus people on the most important mitigations, otherwise they decide they don’t need to wear a mask because they wash their groceries in salt water & wash their hands every hour & only go out when it is raining to avoid others & don’t ride the bus anymore.

(And the grocery washing is basically useless, although the hand washing is good…but apparently not nearly as good as the masks, and the rest are not bad things to do either, but none as good as the masks and hand washing)



Part of it depends on why you were wearing the mask.

For universal source control you’re assuming that you’re infected and trying to prevent others from being infected, something you can do with even a crude mask because the droplets come out of your mouth tend to be large. However if you’re wearing a high quality mask (such as an N95, KN95, or even a KF94) as both source control and as personal protective equipment to keep from spreading and/or catching covid, then you need to make sure that you don’t cross contaminate the outside of your mask to the inside of your mask by having both sides touching the same surface when you put it down, or cross contaminating it with your fingers. That kind of cross contamination is not not the kind of low hazard surface contamination issue that they are dismissing.


The US really should have been doing Manhattan Project level effort and ramp up in production of N95s, so everyone could have a supply of them and wear them.


COVID-19 was our wake-up call. The next pandemic could be ten times worse. It will likely have very different methods of transmission. One way or another, that next pandemic is coming.

I’ll keep washing surfaces of everything I bring into the house, thanks.


Inside door handles of public restrooms. But not just because of COVID-19 – I’ve been trying to avoid touching these nasty things for ages.


When I have several stops on my errand run, I do not remove and replace my re-useable mask between stops. So, yeah, you’ll see me driving alone with a mask. Look the other way if it bothers you.


I’ve even seen a professional YouTuberMD complain about people wearing masks in cars. He was too stuck to his own personal experience in the past of how universal precautions work in an ER where you can change PPE every time you move in or out of a room or to treat a the next patient and not into how PPE has to be used by the general public during a PPE shortage.