COVID-19: should we clean our cell phones daily?

The mobile phone has become a handy communication tool used every day. A 2018 study in America revealed that we are likely to touch our phones 96 times per day. A 2021 cell phone behaviour survey has even pegged it higher, stating that we are likely to touch our phones about 292 times each day.

Based on this, health experts have concluded that mobile phones are a major pathway of microbial transmission.  This has brought about concerns on the role cell phones play in the transmission of SarsCov2, the virus the causes COVID-19, and how important it is to clean our phones.

In the report, Fact-Check Ghana explains what experts say about phones and COVID-19, and how often they must be cleaned.

Experts say it’s a good idea to clean phones often because cell phones are basically “Petri dishes in our pockets” when you think about how many surfaces you touch before touching your phone.

 “There’s probably quite a lot of microorganisms on there because you’re holding them against your skin, you are handling them all the time, and also you’re speaking into them,” said Mark Fielder, a professor of medical microbiology at Kingston University.

“And speaking does release droplets of water just in normal speech. So, it’s likely that a range of microbes – including COVID-19, should you happen to be infected with that virus – might end up on your phone.”

Medical experts say in order to stay safe, one must use alcohol-based disinfectant wipes containing at least 70% alcohol to clean cell phones and other devices regularly.

This, they said, is much safer than the use of sprays which may cause internal damages to phones.

Aside from that, people who have access to alcohol pads doctors use for sanitizing skin before injections and other procedures are also advised to use them in order to keep themselves and devices safe during this pandemic.

Experts advise that the phone or any such device must be powered off before the cleaning is done in order to preserve it.

Phone manufacturing company, Apple, in March 2021 recommended that “using a 70 per cent isopropyl alcohol wipe or Clorox Disinfecting Wipes, you may gently wipe the hard, nonporous surfaces of your Apple product, such as the display, keyboard, or other exterior surfaces” as the best way of keeping devices safe for use.

It however warned against using bleach.

“Don’t use bleach. Avoid getting moisture in any opening, and don’t submerge your Apple product in any cleaning agents. Don’t use on fabric or leather surfaces,” the company said.

Experts say the coronavirus can live on different kinds of surfaces and can last three to four days so there is the need to always disinfect your phone daily.

Can central air conditioning spread Covid-19 in public places?

Technically, it can, according to experts. However, they caution that HVAC (heating/ventilation/air conditioning) systems are not thought to be a significant factor in the spread of coronavirus.

Harvard environmental health researcher, Joseph Gardner Allen, said many modern air conditioning systems will either filter out or dilute the virus. Ventilation systems with highly effective filters are a key way to eliminate droplets from the air.

Filters are rated by a MERV system – their “minimum efficiency reporting value” that specifies their ability to trap tiny particles. The MERV ratings go from 1 to 20. The higher the number, the better the filtration.

HEPA filters have the highest MERV ratings, between 17 and 20. HEPA filters are used by hospitals to create sterile rooms for surgeries and to control infectious diseases. They’re able to remove 99.97% of dust, pollen, mould, bacteria and other airborne particles as small as 0.3 microns.

The contagious coronavirus is thought to be between 0.06 to 1.4 microns in size.

But “HEPA filtration is not always going to be feasible or practical,” Allen said. “But there are other filters that can do the job. What is recommended now by the standard-setting body for HVAC is a MERV 13 filter.”

High-efficiency filters in the 13-to-16 MERV range are often used in hospitals, nursing homes, research labs and other places where filtration is important.

Erin Bromage, an associate professor of biology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, has advised that home and other property owners should have their systems accessed in order to “install the largest MERV number filter the system can reliably handle without dropping the volume of air that runs through it,”

He added that “virtually all modern air conditioning systems in commercial buildings have a process called makeup air where they bring in air from outside and condition it and bring it inside,”

 “It’s worse in regards to energy, but the more outside air we bring in, the more dilution of the virus we have and then the safer you are,” Bromage said in an interview with the Press.

This report is produced under the project: COVID-19 Response in Africa: Together for Reliable Information being implemented with funding support from the European Union.

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