Coffee machines may bring life to you every morning and that “get me through the afternoon” feeling that sneaks up on you at 14h30 each day. However, do we have to worry about getting Covid-19 from the office coffee machine?
Coronaviruses and Surfaces
No, I’m not talking about the coronavirus breeding in the milk powder, just waiting to jump out and grab you. I am talking about the view that the SARS-CoV-2 virus (that causes Covid-19) can remain viable, and therefore infectious, on surfaces for a period of time. How long you ask? Well, despite the focus that Covid-19 is getting, the answer is that we just don’t know enough about it to answer this question with certainty.
Kettle vs Coffee Machine
But lets not look only at the coffee machine. If infection from touching surfaces is a worry, then we have to be equally worried about picking up the kettle. Indeed, touching the tap that we need to turn on to fill the kettle. By equal measure we cannot hold the coffee jar, unscrew the lid and the same goes for picking up the milk jug or the sugar spoon. If this virus survives on surfaces, we have to worry about everything we touch.
I hadn’t actually thought about the fact that the coffee machine may in fact be the best measure of defence in the office environment. But after I wrote the paragraph above I realised with the coffee machine you touch one-button, whereas with a manual coffee making process you first touch a kettle to fill it and touch the “on” button. You have to reach into the fridge to get the milk out, and that means touching the fridge handle and milk carton. Add the sugar bowl and spoon and that makes way more touches than that needed with the automatic coffee machine.
Then there is a way to NOT touch the coffee machine. I guess you could also use it with the kettle etc.. take a tissue and fold it up a few times and use that at the end of your finger to press the coffee machine button. Then discard it. It is easier with the coffee machine button push than trying to hold the kettle with it! You could also use a pen I guess.
Keeping Safe from Covid-19
The alternative is that you bring YOUR own kettle, coffee, milk, sugar, spoon and cup to the office and no-one touches YOUR stuff! You’ll take the cup home to wash because you cannot wash it at work (remember everyone touches the tap knob!). That’s doable but more costly for you. Hassle? Well yes definitely more hassle. But we’ll accept a lot more hassle now than we used to do if we are to try stay safe!
Now don’t forget you also have the photocopier button, the toilet door handles, access control systems, light switches, plug switches, elevator buttons, chair backs, table tops, pens, and yes, your inbox tray full of paper handled by others in the office to worry about. I’d describe it as “walking through a minefield while playing Russian roulette”.
But it doesn’t have to be that tricky. Wash your hands regularly and sanitise after touching any “accessible to others” surfaces. Increase office surface sanitisation too and yes, why not simply use a tissue or a pen tip to act as a barrier to the sanitised button on your office coffee machines?
We may all be stressed out about this coronavirus, but let’s at least preserve what little sanity we have left, Enjoy a cup of coffee!
UPDATE 17 Aug 2020: There is a growing divergent view that Covid-19 is mainly transmitted through air droplets and that infection via surfaces is not considered a primary transmission pathway. That makes enjoying your coffee even better.