Illustration: Derek Abella

Six Months In

The Most Likely Way You’ll Get Infected With the Coronavirus

You don’t have to sanitize your apples anymore, but you do have to wear a mask

Elemental
Published in
12 min readSep 16, 2020

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This story is part of “Six Months In,” a special weeklong Elemental series reflecting on where we’ve been, what we’ve learned, and what the future holds for the Covid-19 pandemic.

At the beginning of the pandemic in March, Jeffrey VanWingen, MD, a Michigan family physician, scared the bejeezus out of people and infuriated food scientists. During his 13-minute video, which went viral on YouTube and has been viewed over 26 million times, VanWingen tells people that when they come back from the grocery store, they should leave groceries outside for three days, spray disinfectant onto each product, and soak produce in soapy water. His rationale was that those items might carry the novel coronavirus and could potentially infect people after they come into contact with them.

Six months later, we’ve learned a lot about how SARS-CoV-2 spreads, and it turns out most of VanWingen’s tips are largely unnecessary and some are flat-out dangerous (you should never bleach your food, but hopefully you already knew that). Instead of obsessing over objects and surfaces, scientists now say the biggest infection risk comes from…

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Dana G Smith
Elemental

Health and science writer • PhD in 🧠 • Words in Scientific American, STAT, The Atlantic, The Guardian • Award-winning Covid-19 coverage for Elemental