The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have updated their guidance to note that the coronavirus "does not spread easily" from touching surfaces or objects — but experts say people should remain vigilant about washing their hands. It's unclear exactly when the CDC updated its guidance.
NBC News medical correspondent Dr. John Torres spoke with Savannah Guthrie on TODAY Thursday about the significance of the update, especially for people who've been wiping down groceries, delivered packages and mail for months as a precaution to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
"I think what it means is that we can go ahead and not be as concerned about that,'' Torres said. "We still need to be a little bit concerned and still do the things we need to do to stay safe, and that means mainly washing your hands."
He added that the focus should be "more on washing our hands than on taking care of every container we have or washing every piece or food or vegetable because now what the CDC is saying, which research bears out, is that it's not spread as easily through contact."
The CDC lists touching surfaces and objects as one of three paths that do not easily spread the virus. (The other two are from animals to people and people to animals). The federal agency notes that people can get COVID-19 by touching an infected surface and then touching their mouth, nose or eyes, but it's not the main way the virus spreads.
"In other words, we don't touch something, then touch our faces and get it as easily, although we can still get it that way," Torres said. "The main focus needs to be on that social distancing, wearing masks, because getting it through respiratory droplets ... is the No. 1 way we get it."
He continued: "It doesn't mean you can't get it from touching something else. It just means that we don't need to be as concerned with that as we do with the respiratory droplets and ... social distancing. That needs to be the main emphasis. But still clean things, still wash your hands, get your children to do the same thing, but again make sure we focus on the social distancing. That's priority No. 1."
Torres also weighed in on Wednesday's announcement by the World Health Organization that more than 100,000 cases of coronavirus were reported worldwide in the previous 24 hours, the highest single-day total since the outbreak began.
The announcement shows how important social distancing and wearing masks must remain to stop the spread of the virus, according to Torres.
"I know it's been a few months. I know a lot people are tired of doing things, but at the same time, we can't let our guard down because we're gonna be right where we started from, and we're going to have to do this all over again," he explained.
A new analysis by Columbia University researchers also highlights the importance of social distancing and other protective measures. The study, which has not been peer-reviewed, found that if the U.S. had implemented social distancing measures in early March rather than the middle of the month, about 36,000 fewer people would have died. That's more than one-third of the current total of U.S. deaths due to the coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins University.
"I think going forward, this is telling us, as people are opening up and states are opening up, they need to make a big effort to see if there (is an increase in) cases," Torres said. "If they are, an even bigger effort (needs to be made) to clamp those cases down to make sure it doesn't turn into an outbreak."