Clarifications on CDC’s updated Covid-19 cleaning and disinfecting guidance, from ISSA/GBAC, Ashkin

by Brianna Crandall — April 12, 2021 — The Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC), a Division of worldwide cleaning industry association ISSA composed of international leaders in the field of microbial-pathogenic threat analysis, mitigation, response and recovery, released clarification this week around revised guidelines from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on April 5 related to cleaning and disinfecting for SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19. The ASHRAE Epidemic Task Force released a separate updated statement in relation to airborne (vs. surface) transmission, and green cleaning advocates The Ashkin Group also added thoughts on worker/occupant safety and environmental effects in response to the CDC Brief.

ISSA / Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC)

CDC’s Science Brief: SARS-CoV-2 and Surface (Fomite) Transmission for Indoor Community Environments, noted that “cleaning with products containing soap or detergent reduces germs on surfaces by removing contaminants and may also weaken or damage some of the virus particles, which decreases risk of infection from surfaces.” ISSA and GBAC wish to emphasize the critical importance that cleaning and disinfecting surfaces must not only reduce exposure to Covid-19, but to other seriously harmful pathogens as well — especially in spaces where people work together all day or there is a high level of traffic.

GBAC Executive Director Patricia Olinger stated:

While there are still many uncertainties surrounding Covid-19, it is clear that facilities can better prepare for, respond to, and recover from outbreaks when they have a comprehensive program that starts with a risk assessment. There are many layers to this issue, but as authoritative leaders within the space, we feel it’s important to clarify that with the current pandemic, in addition to indoor air quality needs, cleaning professionals should continue their enhanced efforts in cleaning and disinfecting public facilities with added focus on high touch points. When used correctly by trained professionals, proven products and equipment are very effective against SARS-CoV-2 as well as other viruses and bacteria.

The use of products approved by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and included on the EPA’s List N: Disinfectants for Coronavirus (Covid-19) is preferable, as it ensures cleaning professionals are applying expert-reviewed formulations that have been approved for use against SARS-CoV-2, says GBAC. Additionally, cleaning for health is most effective at mitigating the spread of illnesses when it is a multi-step approach that involves first cleaning surfaces to remove or reduce soil loads and then disinfecting to kill bacteria, fungi, and inactivate viruses.

CDC also stated that, “in most cases, fogging, fumigation, and wide-area or electrostatic spraying is not recommended as a primary method of surface disinfection and has several safety risks to consider.” While surface disinfection equipment is not necessary for every facility, ISSA and GBAC support the use of sprayers with the proper training, as these tools can be incredibly useful for high-traffic facilities and those with occupants with an increased risk of illness. When using chemicals and disinfection equipment, it is important to read the label and use products correctly to prevent unnecessary overuse and exposure.

ISSA Executive Director John Barrett added:

There is a continuum of risk during the pandemic as new SARS-CoV-2 variants emerge, and beyond it due to the fact that illnesses like influenza, norovirus, and Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) can impact public health. When combined, cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces, air quality controls, the use of face masks, hand hygiene, and other measures can greatly reduce the risk of infection spread and give facility occupants and guests greater peace of mind that organizations are prioritizing their health and safety.

For more information on proper facilities cleaning and disinfecting now and post pandemic, visit ISSA’s Cleaning and Disinfecting for the Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) webpage.

Hear comments on the recent CDC guidance on cleaning and disinfecting directly from biorisk expert Patricia Olinger; Dr. Paul Meechan, formerly with the CDC; and Michael Diamond, executive director of The Infection Prevention Strategy (TIPS), in the latest Straight Talk! episode: GBAC Comments on Recent CDC Guidance.


For the ASHRAE Epidemic Task Force’s separate updated statement in relation to CDC’s acknowledgement that the coronavirus tends to spread more by airborne transmission than on surfaces, see “ASHRAE Epidemic Task Force updates SARS-CoV-2 airborne transmission guidance” on FMLink.

The Ashkin Group

In a separate response to the CDC update, green cleaning advocate Stephen P. Ashkin, founder of internationally recognized consulting firm The Ashkin Group, noted that while the April 5 Science Brief “does not call into question the need for surfaces to be kept clean, it does call into question the use of disinfectants,” particularly in households. Ashkin advocates for the protection of cleaning staff, building occupants and the environment through safer green cleaning practices.

According to the CDC Brief, while it is possible to contract the disease by touching Covid-contaminated surfaces and then touching your nose, mouth, or eyes, the chances of this happening are “generally less than one in 10,000,” and further effective handwashing can reduce these chances even more. In most cases, the Brief concludes, transmission of the virus is through the inhalation of airborne droplets.

The Brief continues: “There have been increases in poisonings and injuries from unsafe use of cleaners and disinfectants since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some types of disinfection applications, particularly those including fogging or misting, are neither safe nor effective for inactivating the virus unless properly used.”

While the study does suggest surface disinfecting may help prevent transmission of the disease within households, and the ISSA guidance listed above is especially important for high-use public areas to combat other types of dangerous pathogens, Ashkin asserts that the overuse of disinfectants “. . . is unnecessary; it is proving to be unhealthy for people, including cleaning workers, and certainly not healthy for the environment.”

Ashkin emphasizes effective cleaning with safe ingredients and effective handwashing to slow the spread of Covid-19. Visit The Ashkin Group website for more information about green cleaning.

The April 5 Science Brief: SARS-CoV-2 and Surface (Fomite) Transmission for Indoor Community Environments is available on the CDC website.