Yes, people are doing that, and it’s bad.
While the Center for Disease Control (CDC) says that they haven’t learned yet whether warm weather or temperature affects the spread of the coronavirus, many people believe it does. Other viruses like the ones that cause the common cold and the flu do spread more during the winter than during the summer, which could be why people speculate that the coronavirus does the same. But it hasn’t been proven.
However, the CDC also says that “it may be possible that people can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes.” And the combination of the idea that the virus can be spread through objects and the idea that the virus is susceptible to high temperatures brings us here.
While libraries across the country closed their doors in response to the pandemic, many are opening up for pickup. Patrons who order library books are then exposing themselves to books that have been exposed to any number of strangers who could be infected. In an attempt to rid any books of the coronavirus, people were trying to microwave the virus out of them, relying on the virus’s supposed susceptibility to heat.
This isn’t as harmless as it may appear. Libraries use radio frequency identification (RFID) tags for both item identification and security. It can be used for checking books in and out of the library, collection inventory, accurate shelving, and for pick-up systems placed around the community (not just in the library itself).
The RFID tag contains a microchip and an aluminum antenna. They are made of metal, and thus not fit for microwave use. Kent District Library in Grand Rapids, Michigan, made a Facebook post posted pictures of a microwaved book, saying that the books will catch fire in a microwave due to the metal RFID tag. The fire burned a hole in the book. Elizabeth Guarino-Kozlowicz, the regional manager of Kent District Library, said, “I don’t know if it was something they saw on the news—that they thought maybe the heat would kill COVID-19.”
So if you can’t microwave the coronavirus out of library books, how do libraries make sure they’re not spreading the virus through their pickup services? Well, the Kent District Library is quarantining all materials for 72 hours because of the plastic protections, in line with CDC guidelines. Guarino-Kozlowicz said, “All of the items go into a separate space…we set them aside for three days and then we check them after that. We don’t want [the library patrons] to feel concerned that they need to do anything.”
So don’t microwave your library books. They will catch on fire, and it’s unclear whether it would even help. But libraries disinfecting their books and offering curbside pickup are doing their best to keep you both safe and reading.
Feature Image Via Daily Hampshire Gazette