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Virus screening: Are touch screens a coronavirus concern?

Last Updated Mar 11, 2020 at 2:25 pm EST

A customer uses a self checkout machine at a Shoppers Drug Mart in downtown Toronto. CITYNEWS.

They arguably make life more convenient, but are self check-out machines at fast food restaurants and stores also a convenient way to spread viruses?

With the snowballing global spread of COVID-19, it’s a valid question.

There’s still a lot we don’t know about the novel coronavirus, but according to Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease physician at UHN’s Toronto General Hospital, the consensus among medical professionals is that in some cases the virus could survive for days on certain surfaces.

“This infection will likely be able to survive on inanimate surfaces for about two hours to two days, but we don’t know just yet — studies are underway. Viruses can live on surfaces for a period of time depending on heat, humidity, ultraviolet rays, and other variables.”

“So, the next question is what is your risk of acquiring this infection from high-contact areas? It’s still probably low, but people should be mindful about having impeccable hand hygiene to reduce the risk of acquiring this infection from high contact surfaces. Just the same as they should be mindful of acquiring other infections from high contact surfaces.”

CityNews reached out to several corporations that have installed the machines at their respective locations.

Only McDonald’s Canada responded to questions about cleaning protocols.

Canadian Tire, Dollarama, Loblaw/Shoppers Drug Mart, and Tim Hortons did not respond despite multiple requests.

In a statement, McDonald’s Canada said it was increasing the frequency of cleaning and sanitizing with an “increased focus on high-touch areas such as kiosks, pin pads and door handles.”

“At McDonald’s Canada, our top priority is to protect the health and well-being of our people and our guests,” a company spokesperson said. “We are implementing additional measures in restaurants as necessary and continue to take the lead from the Public Health Agency of Canada.”

McDonald’s Canada, along with coffee chains Tim Horton’s and Starbucks, has also temporarily stopped accepting reusable mugs.

Bogoch suggested that corporations and consumers have a shared responsibility when it comes to curbing possible transmission.

“I do know that people who are touching high contact surfaces such as (self check-out machines) should be mindful about washing their hands and using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.”

At the same time, the infectious disease specialist doesn’t think media reports that sensationalize the risks of dirty surfaces are very helpful.

“You’ll see a story once a year, where someone is going to go out and they’ll take a swab and they are going to swab something — the tray table on an airplane, a door handle at the library, pick anything. Guess what? We don’t live in a sterile world. We don’t. There’s bacteria and viruses everywhere and the sooner we realize that the more we can come to terms with it.”

“We still have to balance that with ‘sure, you don’t want to put large quantities of these in our mouth,’ and ‘we’ve got to have good hand hygiene to prevent ourselves from getting infected,’ but I think we also have to appreciate that we do not live or interact with a sterile world.”

When asked about the risk of contracting COVID-19 through dirty iPhones, Bogoch didn’t seem overly concerned.

“What is the risk of an iPhone actually getting this infection on it? Probably pretty low. It’s not a high-contact surface, it’s in your hands. It’s not the same as an elevator button, a doorknob, or a keyboard at the public library, where countless people have been in touch with it.

“I wouldn’t get too fussed about that (iPhones). I’d be more worried about things like public transportation.”