Temp checks, digital menus and ‘touchless’ mustard: The maddening persistence of ‘hygiene theater’
None of these precautions provide meaningful protection against the spread of the coronavirus, safety experts say. Instead, they are examples of what critics call “hygiene theater,” the deployment of symbolic tactics that do little to prevent the spread of the coronavirus but may make some anxious consumers feel safer. (The term is widely credited to Atlantic writer Derek Thompson, who catalogued ineffective but showy anti-covid tactics last summer.)
Many such precautions were first adopted early last year, when public health officials suspected the virus might linger on surfaces and spread via touch. But closer study determined that the risk of infection from doorknobs, buttons and the like was extremely low. In April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that “contact with a contaminated surface has less than a 1 in 10,000 chance of causing an infection” – a smidgen higher than a person’s lifetime chance of being struck by lightning.