At the start of the pandemic, way back in March 2020 when there was much confusion around how the virus was transmitted, many people decided public surfaces must be at least partially to blame.

Which led stores, hotels, airports, and other public spaces to jump into a very conspicuous effort to disinfect every surface in sight. Assigning workers to continually wipe down everything someone might touch, resulting in a distinct disinfectant odor hanging in the air everywhere you went.

Did it help control the spread of COVID?

Probably not, according to a piece in The Atlantic from July 2020. The writer, citing evidence that “surface transmission of COVID-19 is not justified at all by the science”, called the hyper-disinfecting process “hygiene theater”. As with the TSA and other high-profile, expensive, and annoying instances of security theater, intended to make people feel better but not solving the real problem.

In February, the same Atlantic writer followed up his original reporting with even more science demonstrating that “catching the virus from surfaces—although plausible—seems to be rare”, and that hygiene theater is still a waste. In April, even the CDC admitted that all the cleaning was “just for show”.

So why is so much of it still going on? Do the “Temp checks, digital menus and ‘touchless’ mustard” really help control the spread COVID? Is this new form of security theater going to be a permanent part of everyday life? 

I certainly hope not. Not only are the hyper-cleaning protocols a waste of time, the additional chemicals, “disposable” wipes, and gallons of water cannot be good for the environment. Think of all the excess Lysol that’s been put into the system in the past year and a half.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of places that needed to have better cleaning protocols (starting with every school I’ve ever worked in). But this newly-discovered over-emphasis on cleanliness draws resources away from far more important problems that need our attention.

However, this is something we tend to do a lot in the 21st century. Design highly visible, somewhat simplistic “solutions”, creating the illusion of making things more secure, but which are mostly an expensive, annoying, and sometimes dangerous show.

This is one of those shows that need to be killed now before it has the chance to become a permanent part of modern American society.


The picture, from a recent article in The Washington Post, shows a man using a hand sanitizer dispenser at the U.S. Capitol. As I mentioned in the previous post, I detest those things and hope they die quickly.