Fear, Uncertainty & Displays in a Post-COVID World

Science proves public displays aren't as clean as you think they are, even after disinfection.

While the reflexive fear of touching public surfaces due to COVID appears to be diminishing, to touch or not to touch public displays is a very personal decision.

Even before the COVID pandemic, multiple studies have shown significant bacterial and fecal contamination on touch screens deployed in public venues1.

Petri dish shown bacterial and fecal contamination.

Even recently disinfected surfaces are home to bacterial contamination.

A 2018 study specific to airport displays in 18 US airports2 was shocking, revealing that bacteria counts of over 250,000 colony forming units (CFU) per square inch were present on check-in touch screens. One screen measured over 1,000,000 CFUs! By comparison, the CFU count for a typical home toilet seat is a measly 178 CFU’s per square inch, more than 1,000 times less than the airport touch screens.

While providing disinfecting wipes nearby or stating that the screens are disinfected at regular intervals may provide the illusion of safety, a study3 published in the American Journal of Infection Control in June, 2015, demonstrated that the reduction in pathogens is temporary.

Samples were taken before and after use of a disinfectant wipe from touch screens at 4 Long Term Care facilities across the Greater Toronto Area. Samples were cultured to isolate bacteria and fungi. Touch screens were wiped approximately every hour for two months with various disinfectant wipes and examined for any changes in appearance or damage.

All surfaces sampled at the LTC facilities showed marked contamination with bacterial and fungal organisms prior to disinfection.

In less than one hour after the use of disinfecting wipes, touch screens again showed “marked contamination with bacterial and fungal organisms.”

Airport touchscreens show levels of bacterial contamination 1,000 times higher than a home toilet seat.

So, are you the first person to touch the screen after cleaning or the last to touch a dirty screen? 

While you personally may not be concerned about pathogen transmission, a box of wipes or bottle of hand sanitizer can’t tell you how many individuals choose to avoid the touch-based systems. Nor can passive disinfection techniques quantify your lost sales or potential liability in the event your sanitation efforts or intervals are proven insufficient at some point in the future.

However, there is one touchscreen everyone is comfortable touching, the screen on their own smartphone. Providing the Freetouch touchless software solution on your kiosks and interactive digital signage is a cost effective way of telling your customers that you do care about their health and well-being. Also, with the metrics available from the Freetouch management console, you can also obtain data about how many of your customers did in fact opt-out on touching your displays.

  1. “Tests find traces of faeces on popular restaurant touchscreens”; Dr Paul Matewele, a microbiologist at London Metropolitan University; published 4 December, 2018
  2. “Germs at the Airport”; Multiple sources: see www .insurancequotes.com/health/germs-at-the-airport; published 22 January, 2018
  3. “Effects of Disinfectant Wipes on Touch Screen Surfaces”; Deanna Del Re MSc, Microbiologist, Biolennia Laboratories et al; American Journal of Infection Control; 2 June, 2015