When I was a kid, we had a strict rule about kicking off our shoes when entering the house. Back then, I thought it was an annoying rule and have mostly not adhered to it as an adult. But following the recommendations of infectious disease specialists regarding COVID-19, the novel coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe, I’m starting to reconsider that decision.
There are a few basic steps that we’ve heard about endlessly since the pandemic began its march across the globe. Steps like washing your hands for twenty seconds, maintaining a social distance of at least six feet and stay home as much as possible, and of course adhering to any directives from authorities about sheltering in place or going into quarantine. But now, a handful of experts think that your literal steps could be spreading COVID-19.
Some evidence, but no definitive proof
Before we go any further, let’s talk evidence. There is ample evidence at the moment that the novel coronavirus is able to stay alive for hours or days on a variety of surfaces. At this time, there is no proof that the virus is able to be tracked into your home on your shoes.
“There is no evidence to say that the coronavirus comes into the house from shoes,” Carol Winter, a public health specialist, told The Huffington Post.  “Pragmatically, they are on the body part furthest from our face, and we do know that the greatest risk of transmission is person to person, not shoe to person.”
That said, this virus is new, and being a novel virus means that we haven’t had much time to study it in general. We do know that the coronavirus can be spread from person-to-person through droplets made by coughing and sneezing and that it is able to survive on various surfaces.  Even though there is no evidence that it can survive on your shoes and be tracked into your home, it is worth taking into consideration.
Georgine Nanos, a board-certified family physician specializing in epidemiology, believes that shoes can be a source of contamination and that the threat is increased by visiting places that receive a lot of foot traffic, like grocery stores, for example.
“As of today, we believe coronavirus can live on surfaces for up to 12 hours, potentially longer,” Dr. Nanos says. “And this definitely includes shoes.”
Carol Winner believes that droplets containing the active virus can absolutely land on footwear and that the synthetic materials that comprise most footwear are adequate surfaces for the virus to remain viable for some time.
“We’ve learned from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases that coronavirus can remain active on some surfaces, like plastic, for up to two to three days,” Winner said.  “This suggests that viruses deposited on shoes made of plastic could retain the active virus for a few days,” and they could dry out sooner on natural fibers.
Keeping your shoes clean and your home safe
So what should you do about potentially contaminated shoes? There are a few steps you can take to ensure that you don’t track the coronavirus into your home.
“I recommend having a dedicated pair of shoes to go out in and then a clean pair to change into before entering the house,” emergency physician Dr. Cwanza Pinckney told the Huffington Post. “Health care workers are always mindful to change shoes [and put work shoes in bags] before getting in the car and going home.”
Disinfecting your shoes is also a solid option for maintaining a healthy space at home. Dr. Nanos suggests washing your shoes if they’re machine washable. If not, cleaning them with hot water and soap.
“Wiping down your shoes is probably most effective when using an alcohol-based wipe,” Dr. Nanossaid. “You can also wash your shoes on a short cycle in the washing machine, and use hot soap and water if you don’t have anything else to use.”
Lysol is also effective at rendering SARS-CoV-2 inactive and harmless, but Lysol can be damaging to organic, natural materials.
Winner advises that parents of younger children should take extra precautions, being more careful to clean and disinfect their shoes.
“Really small children are known to play on the floor a lot and put their hands in their mouth, so taking extra precautions with them is always a good idea,” she said. “Have them remove their shoes at the door, minimize hand contact with the shoes and have them wash their hands immediately when coming into the house.”
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