A lot of attention is paid to key changes in human behavior that can significantly slow the spread of disease, including the COVID-19 virus. Staying at home, social distancing, the use of face masks, no large indoor gatherings, etc. are critical to opening our schools and reinvigorating the economy.
At the same time, there is a new focus on ensuring the places we go to are safe from viruses via frequently touched surfaces in public like restaurants, stores, office buildings, and public transit.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued guidelines for disinfecting frequently touched surfaces that include practices for periodic cleaning using a wide range of disinfectants that kill any bacteria or viruses that may have settled there.
While these guidelines can prove helpful in eliminating the virus after the fact, they do little to prevent reinfection from going forward.
The Critical Time Factor
According to the National Institutes of Health, the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) “remained active on plastic and stainless steel surfaces for two to three days under the conditions in this experiment. It remained infectious for up to 24 hours on cardboard and four hours on copper.
The virus was detectable in aerosols for up to three hours. These times will vary under real-world conditions, depending on factors including temperature, humidity, ventilation, and the amount of virus deposited.”
This would include high touch surfaces such as door handles, countertops, tables, chairs, elevator buttons, etc. and the World Health Organization strongly recommends disinfecting these surfaces frequently.
“The problem with traditional disinfection liquids and sprays – no matter how efficacious – is that they only kill the bacteria or virus that was there before disinfection,” explains Kevin Parrish, CEO of Novalent, a research and development company innovating in the field of environmentally-friendly, long-bonding antimicrobial solutions.
“The next person to touch the cleaned surface can contaminate that surface all over again. And there’s no way to wipe down a frequently used doorknob or elevator button each time someone walks in the door.”
Even the deepest of cleaning is only effective until someone touches, coughs on, or even breathes on a cleaned surface again– the moment microorganisms are reintroduced, the threat returns.
The Challenge of Disinfection Alone
The CDC states that “According to current evidence, COVID-19 virus is primarily transmitted between people through respiratory droplets and contact routes” and that “transmission of the COVID-19 virus can occur by direct contact with infected people and indirect contact with surfaces in the immediate environment or with objects used on the infected person.”
While the wearing of face coverings has shown to be effective in reducing transmission, the fact is that not everyone is adhering to guidance leaving surfaces vulnerable to droplet contamination.
One fact remains — if businesses, municipal buildings, and other high-traffic facilities are to open back up safely, we will have to effectively address all known sources of infection, including frequently touched surfaces.
And this threat is not “just” a medical one, the failure to protect customers and the public exposes business owners and governments to liabilities that are already holding back widespread re-openings.
Those businesses and governments that take the most stringent steps to ensure their facilities are safe will emerge miles ahead of those that don’t – not only in the short term but in the “post-pandemic” world as well.
All Is Not Lost
We have options and the government is gearing up to employ them on a much broader scale. New methods and innovative materials are either in development or quickly becoming commercially available.
In a July 7, 2020, press release, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said, “As part of the Trump Administration’s all-of-America response to COVID-19, EPA scientists, in collaboration with some of the nation’s largest transit agencies, are providing real-time, important information on longer-lasting disinfectants that could revolutionize how we minimize COVID and COVID-like risks in public spaces.”
The release also states, “Currently, EPA-registered products that claim long-lasting effectiveness are limited to those that control odor-causing bacteria on hard, non-porous surfaces. There are no EPA-registered products that claim long-lasting disinfection.
The benefit of a longer-lasting antimicrobial product is the reduced need to clean and disinfect a surface or object every time after someone new touches it.
Transit agencies around the country are currently using multi-step cleaning and disinfection processes but would greatly benefit from a product that had long-lasting disinfection capabilities.”
Some solutions are already being used in large food and beverage plants, poultry farms, apparel manufacturing operations and other facilities with impressive results. Millions of dollars are flowing into research aimed at new products and processes that seek to continuously kill bacteria and viruses such as COVID-19 after application.
Researchers at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology recently reported that they are developing a new disinfectant spray that can “inactivate” viruses from surfaces like the one causing COVID-19.
The antimicrobial coating under development – which has yet to undergo regulatory approval here in the U.S.– relies on heat-sensitive polymers that its inventors say responds to contamination from touch or droplets for days and even weeks.
Another approach is being developed in a Chilean lab that touts the use of tiny specks of copper to contain the spread of viruses like COVID-19. One application of this nanoparticle-based approach is reportedly designed to be used on hard surfaces and purportedly lasts up to a week. Like the approach being developed in Hong Kong, however, it is not currently approved for use in the U.S.
While these developments offer varying degrees of promise, there is a solution already market-tested having already assisted PepsiCo in inhibiting bacteria and fungi growth at its bottling plants.
Novalent has leveraged more than 20 years of research to develop a portfolio of thoroughly tested, regulatory approved and commercially available products that ensure the practical sterility of frequently touched surfaces.
In addition to PepsiCo, Novalent has worked with Panera Bread, Starbucks, Pilgrim’s Pride, Ziegenfelder Twin Pops, Sabra Dipping Co., Tyson Foods, Hanes Brands, and has also just agreed to protect Equity Residential properties across the United States with its long-bonding biostatic surface treatment technology.
The Novalent solution is based on a biostatic, positively charged shield of carbon atoms which bonds to surface and creates a layer of invisible spikes that resist and kill bacteria and viruses on contact. It is not a disinfectant.
Imagine a microscopic bed-of-nails – imperceptible to the human touch – laid down over a disinfected surface. Bacteria and virus cells are literally punctured upon contact, killing them before they can infect or replicate on the surface itself.
The company has recently raised more than $15 million to support operational changes needed to meet the new demand for its technology.
Continued expansion of the COVID-19 pandemic brings increased urgency to the broad adoption of new technologies for ensuring lasting anti-contamination of frequently touched surfaces. To see the EPA’s research on the virus that causes COVID-19 and read about its efforts, visit its website https://www.epa.gov/healthresearch/research-covid-19-environment