People are staying home to avoid the novel coronavirus, but it may linger on commonly used surfaces for longer than you think. A new study in the New England Journal of Medicine examined how long the novel coronavirus can live in the air and on certain surfaces. A virologist and an infectious diseases physician at the University of Alabama at Birmingham break down what the study found and explain how you can protect yourself and your loved ones.
The study looked at how long the virus can live in the air, and on plastic, copper, stainless steel and cardboard.
“The virus was more stable on plastic and stainless steel than cardboard,” said Todd Green, Ph.D., a virologist and an associate professor in UAB’s Department of Microbiology. “Viable virus was detected for up to three days on plastic and stainless-steel surfaces. While on copper, no viable virus was measured after four hours or on cardboard after 24 hours.”
According to Green, the study found that the amount of virus decreased rapidly over time on each of those surfaces, which means the risk of infection would likely decrease over time as well.
In the air, the half-life of the virus is about one hour; but in a three-hour period, researchers could still measure viable virus in the air.
“There are several factors that would determine whether or not the timeframes in the study are accurate in a given situation,” Green explained. “Humidity and temperature are some factors that would impact the viability of the virus. Also, if you are outside or if you are walking, factors like wind and other forces could cause the virus to fall to the ground or on a surface.”
Green says the amount of time the virus is viable will increase or decrease based on the quantity of the virus and the temperature and humidity levels it is exposed to.
“The higher the temperature and humidity level, the less viable the virus will be over time,” Green said. “However, precise studies with those variables remain to be done.”
While people are less likely to become infected by touching a contaminated surface than they are by being exposed to someone with the virus, it is important to practice preventive measures.
“Packages will be coming from a number of hands, and you might not know the symptom status of everyone who touched it along the way,” said Jodie Dionne-Odom, M.D., assistant professor in UAB’s Division of Infectious Diseases. “Wash your hands after opening and handling the package. That will kill the germs.”
You should also clean and disinfect frequently touched items and surfaces with isopropyl alcohol, avoid touching your face with unwashed hands, and cover your mouth with a tissue or a sleeve when you cough or sneeze.
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