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There are many different types of coronaviruses. The most recently discovered type of coronavirus, commonly referred to as COVID-19, is a virus that causes respiratory illness and has been detected in people all over the world. While much is still unknown about COVID-19, it is critical to understand and digest the information that we do know about the virus in order to protect our loved ones and community from further spread of the virus. Fortunately, organizations like the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO) and others are closely monitoring the virus and providing the public with critical information on how to decrease your chances of contracting the virus.
One of the most important pieces of information to understand is how the virus spreads. According to the CDC, the main way the virus spreads is from person-to-person through airborne respiratory droplets. If an infected person coughs or sneezes, those viral particles can land on another person’s nose or mouth, thereby infecting that person. The viral particles also stay in the air up to three hours and may get inhaled by someone.
Another way the virus spreads is by touching common surfaces or objects that are contaminated with the virus and then touching your own mouth, nose or eyes. This is because the virus can enter the body through openings, including one’s mouth, nose or eyes. While contracting the virus by touching surfaces or objects is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads, it is certainly one way that a person can contract the virus.
The virus can survive on all surfaces and physical objects. However, the lifespan of these viral particles on a surface or object depends very much on the surface material. When a person comes into contact with a surface where the virus is present, the likelihood that the virus enters the body increases significantly. This is why constant advice and recommendations to wash your hands, clean surfaces and objects that people come in contact with via disinfectant or soap, and not touch your face are so important.
Most of the information we know about the surface lifespan of the virus comes from a study that was released by the New England Journal of Medicine on March 17, 2020. The study looked at the aerosol and surface stability of COVID-19 on different types of surfaces including plastic surfaces, stainless steel surfaces, cardboard surfaces, and copper surfaces. According to the study, the virus can live on surfaces anywhere between several hours and several days. On all surfaces, as time went on the stability of the virus was greatly reduced.
What we know now is that the virus thrives most on plastic surfaces and stainless steel surfaces. On both surfaces the virus is viable for up to 72 hours. Some of these plastic and stainless steel surfaces may include children’s toys, Tupperware, plastic seats, plastic utensils, stainless steel appliances, and elevator buttons. Fortunately, the study also showed that on plastic surfaces the stability of the virus was greatly reduced after just eight hours, when only 10 percent of what researchers deposited on the plastic surface was still there. This finding was significant. When there are fewer virus particles on a surface, the chances decrease that someone touching the surface will come into contact with the virus particles and become infected.
On cardboard, the study found that the virus can survive for up to 24 hours, but its viability plummeted just after four hours. Because of poor survivability of the virus on cardboard surfaces, there is a low risk of spreading the virus from products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks. Thankfully, you’re unlikely to get the virus from your amazon package. The World Health Organization echoed this sentiment in a Q&A about the virus stating: “The likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low and the risk of catching the virus that causes COVID-19 from a package that has been moved, travelled, and exposed to different conditions and temperature is also low.”
The study further revealed that the virus has the shortest lifespan on copper, surviving only up to four hours on a copper surface. This finding was not very surprising as the antimicrobial properties of copper have been observed and understood for quite a long time. While copper does not make up a great deal of surfaces, some of most common uses of copper include jewelry, wires, plumbing material and piping, railings, doorknobs, and industrial machinery.
There has been much speculation by the public and in medical communities that the virus cannot survive in high temperatures. Some hope that once the summer season arrives, the virus will no longer be viable and will therefore diminish. Unfortunately, the virus’s exposure to heat and cold has not yet been studied so there is no evidence one way or the other. The New England Journal of Medicine study was performed at about room temperature. Because of that, there is no way to know where the surface lifespan of the virus is shorter in warmer climates until we enter into the summer season. Many experts, however, have opined that higher temperatures likely do not affect the general lifespan, including surface lifespan, of the virus.
While a person is more likely to catch the virus through the air, it is also possible to catch the virus by coming into contact with an infected surface and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes. As a matter of habit, most of us touch our face and multiple household surfaces without ever realizing it. This is why it’s critical to both wash your hands and use surface disinfectants and soap to clean common household surfaces and objects like kitchen countertops, bathroom vanities, and kids’ toys. Cleaning surfaces and objects that you and your loved ones may come in contact with, along with washing hands, should be done more frequently than normal to decrease the chances of contracting the virus.
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