WHEN SHOULD I WORRY ABOUT...

How Long Can Coronavirus Survive on Surfaces?

March 24, 2020 - Katie McCallum

By now, you've probably heard that the most common way for coronavirus (COVID-19) to spread is person-to-person through respiratory droplets released when an infected person coughs or sneezes. If a healthy person inhales these droplets, he or she could get sick.

It's why we're all practicing social distancing — trying to keep six feet of space between us and the person next to us.

But, these infectious respiratory droplets can also land on things. So as you touch door handle after door handle — or even pick up your phone — you're probably wondering what surfaces are most likely to be contaminated with the virus, as well as how long the virus can live there.

There's no one-size-fits-all answer to how long viruses can live on surfaces. A lot of factors come into play. For starters, every virus is different. Rhinoviruses, which cause the common cold, can survive on skin for hours. Influenza viruses can survive up to two days on keyboards and counter tops.

The type of surface the virus lands on, the amount of virus that gets deposited on the surface, and external factors such as temperature and humidity also affect surface survivability of viruses. For instance, cold and flu viruses survive on harder surfaces much longer than porous materials like cloth and tissue.

So how long can the new coronavirus live on surfaces? Here's what we know.

Early data suggests the new coronavirus can live on surfaces for several days

The new coronavirus is, well, new — and there's still much to learn about how easily the virus can spread via contaminated surfaces. But early evidence indicates that the surface survivability of the new coronavirus is similar to that of SARS, a related coronavirus first identified in 2002. Depending on the surface, the virus can live on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days.

The new coronavirus seems to be able to survive the longest on plastic and stainless steel — potentially as long as three days on these surfaces. It can also live on cardboard for up to 24 hours.

But while surface-to-person transmission of the new coronavirus is definitely possible, the likelihood sharply reduces with time. The same laboratory study also found that the virus degrades relatively rapidly on surfaces — as quickly as just a few hours in some cases. In fact, at the end of the three-day mark, less than 0.1% of the starting virus material could be detected on plastic.

Find out what this means for the things you touch throughout the day, including your:

How to prevent surface-to-person transmission of coronavirus

Since coronaviruses can live on surfaces, it's important to know what you can do to prevent surface-to-person spread. This starts with understanding how the virus winds up on surfaces, as well as how the virus actually infects a person.

An infected person's cough can send infectious respiratory droplets flying as far as six feet. While these droplets may seem tiny, they're heavy enough to be affected by gravity. The droplets eventually fall to the ground, contaminating any surfaces they may land on. If you touch a contaminated surface, the virus can be transmitted to your hand, where the virus can likely survive for a few hours.

The good news is that you can't get infected through your skin. The bad news is that you can get infected if you have viable virus on your hands and then touch one of the mucous membranes on your face, including your eyelids, nose or mouth — which you probably do way more than you think.

This means that the main ways to prevent infection with coronavirus via contaminated surfaces are to:

  • Know the common surfaces where germs usually hide
  • Frequently clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces
  • Avoid directly touching surfaces commonly touched by many different people
  • Wash your hands properly and regularly
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth as much as possible

 

When it comes to properly cleaning and disinfecting commonly touched surfaces, the CDC recommends frequently wiping these surfaces down with a common EPA-registered household disinfectant, a diluted bleach solution or an alcohol-based solution that's at least 70% alcohol.

And, if you're sick, it's also important to cover your cough the right way so you can be sure you're not contaminating nearby surfaces or infecting people around you.

 

Concerned you may have COVID-19?

  • If you're experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, you can speak to a Virtual Urgent Care provider 24/7. The provider will help you determine if testing is needed and advise you on where you should go.

 

This article was updated on May 29, 2020 to reflect the current state of the evolving COVID-19 pandemic.

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