Will there be a sinister side to the “Great Cleanliness?”

While planning a “special” weekend getaway, I was browsing placid Airbnb listings in Central California. I died inside each time I noted the price for another 3-night listing, and I also noticed a common selling point that seems to be the rage among hosts now. Prospective guests really want this lodging signal in our post-pandemic world of travel.

“Enhanced clean.”  As opposed to routine clean? Normal clean?   Or in my case, half-assed clean?

What does an enhanced clean provide that a simply thorough one cannot?

I clicked because inquisitive minds being inquisitive…

To which I responded, internally, in my head, “who cares?”

I’m a germophobe, believe it or not.  I learned long ago to deal with that suffocating quirk through knowledge, common sense and relinquishment of control. Common sense is your friend and your soothing meditation.  Use it when confronted with the wild world of microbes;  your life will be easier.

I’m fastidious about many things, but a hotel room is largely beyond my control. We have immune systems for a reason, so we best let them work for us. Keep your hands away from your mucous membranes, especially if they are unwashed.  I’m a big believer in washed hands as the ultimate prevention measure, but I despise the ubiquity of those Kamchatka-scented hand sanitizers.  Wash your hands with soap.  Everything else is overkill.  As far as this “enhanced clean” security blanket, I couldn’t care less.  The only item on the checklist I would concern myself with is linen cleaning. That is important, but “high” setting is another meaningless assurance in a long parade of delusional safeguards. A vigorous wash in warm water with sudsy soap will do the job.

I wonder if I can ask the Airbnb host to knock ten bucks off the nightly room charge if they forego the “enhanced clean.” Just for me, ya know?

Besides the obvious “now” ramifications of COVID-19, I wonder how many long-term societal perturbations are in store which defy our present consideration.  The temporal scope is vast and has consumed civilization.  We are lost in the trees with no vision of the forest, or what it will look like in a generation. This collective “cleanliness” fetish that we’ve fired back at the Coronavirus over the past couple of years is a predictable reaction. Of course people want to avoid the virus’s cloaked microscopic intrusion which threatens that sense of control we have over our bodily sanctity. We respond by demanding guarantees of germ-free interactions.

I am curious what effect this will have on our health a few years down the line. We are living in a period of time when we have been isolated from even the most mundane cold germs by way of “enhanced” cleaning and facial coverings. Nothing’s getting past these barriers, baby! We are germ-free.

When I was young, I read my parent’s subscription copies of Reader’s Digest dutifully. It was cheap, condensed reading for bathroom visits but at 10, it was interesting stuff. Reader’s Digest was keen on stories about diseases and of those unfortunately afflicted with said diseases. Being a neurotic hypochondriac, I could not tear my eyes away from the small paged-format with bullet lists of symptoms, case histories of [name dreadful disease] and other pathological detritus. It was a brand of horror prose before I met the bloated volumes of Stephen King. One RD article cited a study which showed people who caught “less” colds than average were a few times (I can’t recall the exact figure) more likely to develop solid tumors. Scientists theorized that people who caught fewer colds didn’t test or stretch their immunity, leading to a repressed immune system that was less likely to recognize and ward off mutated cells.

That morbid factoid stuck with me and when my aunt was diagnosed with ovarian cancer about 35 years ago, I recalled how she boasted of never getting colds. So the concept, cemented in my mind, was a horrible reality and I grew to relish my annual cold (or better yet, colds) as a sign that my immune system was primed.  You felt like crap for a few days, but it was for the good of the body.  Exposure to pathogens is necessary for the human animal’s immunological fortress.

An unhappy realization hounds me: I have not caught a cold since March 2019. My annual cold should have hit in spring of 2020 with maybe another in the fall.  But there was nothing. Over a year-and-a-half of mitigation measures left me estranged from my usual round of seasonal respiratory afflictions.  This year has continued alienating me from friendly, life-affirming pathogens.

I wonder if the Great Cleanliness will result in elevated case numbers of cancer in the decades to come, with the anti-vaxxers claiming it’s the concoction that the ignorant allowed to be injected into their arm, and the anxious, timid vaccinophiles calling it an effect of “long COVID.”