While social distancing and self-isolation can prevent people from being infected by the novel coronavirus via respiratory droplets, the possibility of infection via surface contamination is not completely resolved through these measures, and other precautions are advisable.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) believes the virus is spread primarily when healthy people come in close personal contact with a person who has COVID-19 who is coughing or sneezing.
However, the health protection agency has not ruled out the possibility that someone could get the virus from touching something that has been contaminated and then touching their own mouth, nose or eyes.
Family medicine physician Neha Vyas, M.D., sheds some light on what we do and don’t know so far about how the 2019 novel coronavirus lives on surfaces, and what you can do to minimize your risk at home.
How long does the 2019 novel coronavirus live on surfaces?
A: A yet-to-be-published study conducted by scientists from the CDC, National Institutes of Health and other institutions suggests that the 2019 novel coronavirus can live for two to three days on plastic and stainless steel surfaces.
With that in mind, it is a good idea to keep for people to keep their homes clean during this time. If someone in the household is sick, it is especially important to disinfect high-touch surfaces in in the home every day, including doorknobs, handles, tables, countertops, keyboards and light switches.
The CDC recommends these tips for disinfecting surfaces in your home:
- If a surface is visibly dirty, clean it with soap and water first, then use a disinfectant.
- Wear disposable gloves.
- Make sure you have good ventilation in the area where you are cleaning.
- Use a diluted household bleach solution, or an alcohol-based solution with at least 70% alcohol. The Environmental Protection Agency has a list of cleaning products that meet its criteria for use against the 2019 novel coronavirus.
- Follow instructions on the cleaning product’s label, and check to make sure it has not expired.
- Wash your hands when you are finished.
Do items of food require special cleaning?
A: The 2019 novel coronavirus causes respiratory illness, not foodborne illness – meaning it affects the lungs, not the digestive system. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, there is currently no reason to believe that the virus has been spread via food or food packaging.
However, officials still urge everyone to follow basic food safety guidelines that call for washing your hands before eating or preparing food, using clean utensils, and properly preparing and storing food. Restaurants and delivery services should also be following safe food preparation and handling practices.
Are delivered packages safe?
A: While the previously mentioned CDC scientists’ study found that the virus can live for up to 24 hours on cardboard, the CDC asserts that chances are low that the virus spreads from packaging that is shipped over a period of days at ambient temperatures.
Can the virus be spread through water?
A: There is no evidence that the virus that causes COVID-19 can be spread through drinking water or use of pools or hot tubs, according to the CDC.
Can the virus live on clothes?
A: Specific research has not been done on how long this virus can survive on clothes, towels or other fabrics. However, it is still advisable to change and wash clothes regularly – especially when returning from the grocery store or for people who still need to report to work every day.
The CDC recommends using the warmest appropriate water setting for clothes and drying them completely. In addition, do not shake laundry items until they are cleaned, as this could potentially disperse germs from clothes when they are dirty.
If you are caring for someone who is sick, their clothes can be washed with the other household items, but disposable gloves should be worn when handling them and hands washed with soap and water as soon as the gloves are removed. In addition, it is important to disinfect hampers and the knobs on the washer and dryer.
Could the virus be carried on skin?
A: Germs can live on different parts of the body, but the main concern here is people’s hands. Hands are what are most likely to come in contact with germy surfaces and then touch the face, which is a potential path of transmission for the virus. People can continue to shower regularly as they normally would, but there is no need to wash the whole body multiple times a day like they should their hands.