Whilst the COVID19 pandemic continues to affect all countries around the globe all efforts are focused on ways we can minimize the risk of the virus spreading. As countries around the world are trying to adapt to this new normality public spaces are undergoing major changes and restrictions in order to help with this containment effort. One area of concern for museums is the use of touchscreens within their interpretation setup. Once they reopen, the public will be very justifiably concerned and ways of making touchscreens safe in the current circumstances need to be found.
Over the last few years, touchscreens became one of the most preferred digital tools used by exhibition designers to interact with visits. Touch screen systems allowed museums to convey a wide range of multimedia content about exhibits and artefacts. Their popularity within museums is due to the fact that they are easy to use by the different visitor groups. The coronavirus pandemic has meant that people are now very concerned when touching surfaces unnecessarily, especially surfaces which have been touched by many other users before them.
The potential that harmful bacteria may exist on touchscreens was always well documented. An investigation in 2018 on the new touch screen self-service kiosks employed by McDonalds in the UK, showed that the samples showed that every single screen-tested had a faecal matter and E.coli amongst other dangerous coliform bacteria. Unaware clients choose their food via the touchscreens then head to the server to pick up their burgers more often than not without washing their hands. These concerns are justified and it is clear that there is a lot to be done to improve these issues. Another report of public surfaces in three major US airports showed that the average self-check-in screen contained 253,857 colony-forming unit, more than 10 times the number found on the average household kitchen sink according to data from an NSF International Household Germ Study.
Guidelines for safe implementation
Touchscreens, provide a flat and even surface which allows for easy and thorough cleaning. The following are some guidelines being offered by touch screen producer Zytronic for the proper implementation of safety procedures in keeping touch screens clean and as safe for use as possible.
- Installing flush edge-to-edge interfaces will make cleaning and disinfection far easier, as bacteria are often harboured in the nooks and gaps of public machines and touchscreens.
- Regular and thorough cleaning and disinfection of publicly used touchscreens is essential to maintain proper hygiene.
- Many touchscreen technologies, such as projected capacitive touch, can respond to the touch of a gloved hand or stylus. This means users can safely interact with touchscreens whilst minimising the chance of catching a virus or infection or spreading it themselves.
- Specialist coatings for touchscreens are now available which can slow the spread of bacteria or even kill bacteria. Whilst these do address general hygiene concerns over touchscreens, these will not have any effect on COVID-19.
- In situations where fixed function keys are necessary, one should go for keys that are part of a single, uninterrupted glass surface which allows for easy cleaning.
- Where tactility is needed, for example for those with severe impairments to their vision, touchscreens are now available which implement machined features such as dimples, grooves and dials into the display. With these options, the glass remains unbroken and proves superior to moving buttons in terms of ease of cleaning.
Touch screen producer ELO has issued a number of cleaning and disinfecting guidelines for touch screens.
- To prepare for cleaning the touchscreen, power down the device (if possible), or ensure your on-screen software can tolerate false touches while you clean.
- Do not get liquids inside the unit. Do not spray the touch screen directly. Instead, use wet wipes, a sprayed cloth or a dampened cloth with the excess moisture squeezed off.
- Select only non-abrasive cleaning wipes or cloths to avoid scratching touchscreens.
- Avoid non-diluted bleach or ammonia solutions, as these may cause discoloration.
- Wipe the surfaces with the appropriate wipes or cloths and approved cleaning products, and allow them to dry.
- To prepare for disinfecting the touchscreen, power down the device (if possible) or ensure your on-screen software can tolerate false touches while you clean.
- Dampen a new clean, non-abrasive cloth with a disinfectant chosen from the list below. Ensure excess liquid is squeezed from the cloth. You may also use recommended pre-dampened wipes.
- Read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully. Many manufacturers require the surface to remain wet for a few minutes, so continuous wiping might be required.
- Disinfect the surfaces by wiping them with the cloth or wipe, and allow the surface to dry.
Do NOT use the following materials when cleaning/disinfecting touch screens.
- Thinner or benzine
- Strong alkali lyes
- Strong solvents
- Detergents with fluoride
- Detergents with ammonia at concentration > 1.6%
- Abrasive cleaners
- Detergents with abrasives
- Formula 409
- Steel wool
- Sponges with abrasives
- Steel blades
- Cloth with steel threads
This recent pandemic has highlighted the importance of good hygiene practice and strict implementation of health and safety procedure even within museums. As we look towards opening our museums back to the public in the coming future we have the opportunity to begin taking measures which can prevent or greatly lessen the impact of any such future pandemics.