The spread of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 has reached pandemic proportions. According to the Johns Hopkins Virus Tracker, as of this writing on March 17, 2020, there have been over 196,000 cases and over 7,800 deaths worldwide.  Spread across the U.S. is rapidly evolving, with more than 5,700 reported cases and 100 deaths.

In further response to these developments, on March 13, 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) issued an updated list of registered disinfectants available for use on hard surfaces for the control of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. See EPA List of Disinfectants for Control of SARS-CoV-2.

The products identified by EPA all established through the Emerging Viral Pathogen Program their efficacy against the COVID-19 coronavirus.  Under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (“FIFRA”) pesticide products may be used only for the control of pests identified on the product label.  EPA recently announced that the process is available to permit claims for the control of  COVID-19. See Guidance on Outbreak of Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.

Listed disinfectant registrants must have labels that already identify a specific emerging pathogen as a target organism.  To qualify for being promoted for a newly emerging pathogen, the organism must either be appearing in a human or animal population for the first time or be rapidly increasing in scale or geographic range. EPA requires that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”) must have so identified the organism in question and that the virus presents a survival risk on hard surfaces. CDC has done so for COVID-19. According to EPA, each of these products has demonstrated efficacy against an enveloped virus as least as difficult to control as Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.

Registrants of the identified products are allowed to communicate to target users the ability to employ their disinfectants for the control of COVID-19. These off-label mechanisms can include technical literature distributed exclusively to health care facilities, physicians, nurses and public health officials, as well as consumer information sources, social media and websites under the control of the registrant. The Guidance prescribes statements that may be used to convey the availability of the product for emerging pathogen control. The availability of the product for control of the emerging virus may not be added to the product label without a formal amendment.

One critical aspect of disinfectant use is often overlooked by users. All products list minimum contact times, meaning the length of time that surface be treated must remain wet. The majority of products require a ten minute contact time, and a significant number require five minutes. There are a limited number of products that have one or two minute periods, and a few as short as thirty seconds. Failure to maintain wetness for the required period means the product will not achieve control, in this case of the virus.  Recent news images of hard surfaces being treated do not instill confidence, as in many cases it is obvious the minimum contact time is not being maintained.