A year ago, covid was a mystery. We didn't know how it spread, we didn't know who it infected, we didn't know how to treat it. All we knew was that it was spreading fast and the early epicenters were slaughterhouses.

It's been a year, and now we know a lot more. One thing we know, for example, is that even though virus particles can linger for a long time on surfaces, you're not likely to catch the virus from these "fomites."

Simple handwashing of the sort we should have all practised all along will do the trick. You don't need to sterilize your groceries or leave your parcels to sit on your doorstep for three days. Just wash your hands!


However, in the lockdown's early days, businesses were floundering, wondering how they'd reopen, and, driven by the scant science of covid transmission, a class of highly speculative health consultant sprang into existence to promote a meticulous regime of surface cleaning.

Surface-cleaning is a highly visible activity, and it can feel reassuring to be handed a grocery basket whose handle is glistening with a layer of freshly applied sterilizing spray. But all of this hygiene theater is largely irrelevant to controlling the pandemic.

Hygiene theater isn't harmless. At the very least, it's a major distraction. Late in 2020, my kid's school district circulated a plan to reopen for in-person classes in early Jan, assuming the LA County health department permitted it (they didn't because LA is a plague-pit).

This email went into incredible, eye-watering detail about the school's plan to sterilize all surfaces, going so far as to mention the brand names, active ingredients and concentrations of the products that would be applied to every surface every day.

Meanwhile, the plan included NOTHING about ventilation. When I wrote to the district to ask some simple questions like, "Will you unseal the windows so they can be opened while students are present?" or "Do you have any fans?" no one knew the answer.

Needless to say, "Have you changed the kind of HVAC filters you use?" was an unanswerable mystery. This wasn't reassuring - as school safety plans go, it was about as useless as those lock-down active shooter drills they terrorize the kids with.

Hygiene theater is everywhere. A friend of mine owns a 100-employee business that moved into new offices just before the pandemic. The lease includes cleaning services, and twice a week, a masked crew sweeps through the unoccupied offices and sterilizes every surface.

Covid science is still a moving target, obviously, but the overwhelming consensus is that masks, distance and ventilation are the most important safety measures we can take - while sterilization and surfaces are no more (or less) important than they were before the plague.

Of course, airflow isn't easy to demonstrate or detect (some places are experimenting with giant CO2 readouts as a proxy for ventilation), so it's getting short shrift.


But focusing on sanitizing because it's so visible is the epidemiological equivalent of looking for car keys under the lamppost.

ETA - If you'd like an unrolled version of this thread to read or share, here's a link to it on pluralistic.net, my surveillance-free, ad-free, tracker-free blog:


• • •

Missing some Tweet in this thread? You can try to force a refresh

Keep Current with Cory Doctorow AWAY UNTIL MAR 15

Cory Doctorow AWAY UNTIL MAR 15 Profile picture

Stay in touch and get notified when new unrolls are available from this author!

Read all threads

This Thread may be Removed Anytime!


Twitter may remove this content at anytime! Save it as PDF for later use!

Try unrolling a thread yourself!

how to unroll video
  1. Follow @ThreadReaderApp to mention us!

  2. From a Twitter thread mention us with a keyword "unroll"
@threadreaderapp unroll

Practice here first or read more on our help page!

More from @doctorow

26 Feb
Today's Twitter threads (a Twitter thread).

Inside: K-Zombies; Privacy is not property; and more!

Archived at: pluralistic.net/2021/02/26/mea…


1/ Image
This is the last Pluralistic installment until mar 15; I'm taking a stay-at-home vacation/email sabbatical. I won't be reading messages from close of business on Friday, Feb 26 until 9AM Pac on Mar 15. Emails/DMs, etc that come in between now and then will be deleted unread.

K-Zombies: Zombies conquer Korea.

3/ Image
Read 20 tweets
26 Feb
When all you have is market orthodoxy, everything looks like a market failure. Take privacy: giant, rapacious corporations have instrumented the digital and physical worlds to spy on us all the time, so some people think they should pay us for our data.

1/ Image
There's a pretty rich theoretical history explaining why this "data dividend" is a stupid idea. First of all, private information isn't very property-like. And not just because it shares all the problems of digital works (infinitely, instantaneously copyable at zero cost).

Private information makes for bad "property" because it is "owned" by multiple, overlapping parties who generally disagree about when and who to share it with. When you and I have a conversation, we both own the fact that the conversation took place.

Read 18 tweets
26 Feb
When you and your friends put your fingers on the ouija board planchette and it starts moving around, there's a chance your friends are just yanking your chain - but just as possible is that your friends are experiencing the ideomotor response.

1/ Image
That's when your unconscious mind directs your muscles without your conscious knowledge. The movement of the planchette doesn't tell you what's going on in the spirit world, but it does tell you something about the internal weather of your friend's psyche, fears and hopes.

Our narratives are social-scale planchettes, directed by mass ideomotor response. When a fake news story takes hold, it reveals a true fact: namely, the shared, internal models of how the world really works.

Fake news is an oracle, in other words.


Read 29 tweets
26 Feb
The Muppet Show (1976), “Christopher Reeve” gameraboy1.tumblr.com/post/644182041…
The Muppet Show (1976), “Christopher Reeve” gameraboy1.tumblr.com/post/644182041…
The Muppet Show (1976), “Christopher Reeve” gameraboy1.tumblr.com/post/644182041…
Read 5 tweets
25 Feb
Today's Twitter threads (a Twitter thread).

Inside: Against hygiene theater; Saving the planet is illegal; and more!

Archived at: pluralistic.net/2021/02/25/rin…


Against hygiene theater: Wired: Ventilation. Tired: Handwashing. Fired: Sterilization.

Saving the planet is illegal: Time to torch the Energy Charter Treaty.

Read 17 tweets
25 Feb
One of the worst barriers to preserving the planet in a state suitable for human habitation is the Energy Charter Treaty, an obscure 1994 treaty with 50+ signatories that allows energy companies to sue governments over environmental protection laws.

The ECT has just been invoked by the German polluter @RWE_AG, which is suing the Dutch government for €1.4b over a law that bans coal plants by 2030.


All told, the EU faces AT LEAST €345b in ECT liability over its climate plans. In reality, the total could be much higher, because the ECT provides for damages equal to the value of physical plant and ALL PROJECTED FUTURE PROFITS from those plants.


Read 17 tweets

Did Thread Reader help you today?

Support us! We are indie developers!

This site is made by just two indie developers on a laptop doing marketing, support and development! Read more about the story.

Become a Premium Member ($3/month or $30/year) and get exclusive features!

Become Premium

Too expensive? Make a small donation by buying us coffee ($5) or help with server cost ($10)

Donate via Paypal Become our Patreon

Thank you for your support!

Follow Us on Twitter!