Practicing good due diligence on how to stop the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19) has recently become a top priority in nearly every setting. Whether you’re thinking about how it spreads at home, work, school, or in any social situation, you probably have questions about how long the coronavirus can survive on surfaces we invariably touch everyday, such as doorknobs, shopping carts, and in public restrooms.
Primarily spread by person-to-person contact
The experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say the virus spreads mostly from person-to-person contact. That means if you’re in close contact (within about six feet) with someone with the virus, you may be exposed to respiratory droplets he or she produces when coughing or sneezing. Coming in contact with those droplets doesn’t guarantee you’ll become ill, but chances increase if you touch your nose, mouth, or eyes, providing a pathway for the virus to enter your body.
Pay special attention to these germ-collectors
While surface contact isn’t thought to be the main way the virus spreads, droplets landing on surfaces can remain infectious for as long as nine days under certain conditions, according to a study in the Journal of Hospital Infection. Even for surfaces not mentioned below, follow hygiene practices conscientiously. Wash your hands or use a hand sanitizer (containing 60% or more alcohol) after coming in contact with surfaces where germs could be lurking. The virus first attacks lung cells, and the most efficient route to those cells is when your infected hands touch your nose, mouth, or eyes.
You can’t possibly get every bad germ off of every surface, but here are some of the surfaces that, according to WebMD, can get particularly germy, and how to tackle them.
Money. Think about all the hands – and germs – the bills and coins in your wallet have been exposed to. Researchers found that most dollar bills are covered in 3,000 types of bacteria. Some are harmless, but others could make you sick. It’s not practical to wash or wipe off every coin and paper bill, so instead make a point of thoroughly washing your hands, or at least use hand sanitizer (containing 60% alcohol) after handling money.
Your purse. Inside and out, your purse is constantly in contact with germs. You – and possibly your kids and others – reach into it all the time. Sometimes those hands are bound to be transmitting germs that end up finding a home in the bottom of your purse. The outside is exposed when you set it down on a store counter or restaurant, in bathroom stalls, and airport lounges. Hang it on a hook when you can, and clean it inside and outside with antibacterial wipes.
Anything in the office breakroom. There are many items in a typical breakroom that get touched by everyone – the microwave, refrigerator door handle, faucets, even vending machine buttons. Wipe these items down with disinfectant wipes, or wash your hands or use hand sanitizer after coming in contact.
The ATM. Unless you wear latex gloves (not a bad idea), you can’t avoid exposing your fingers to the germs all those using the ATM before you left behind. Interestingly, machines in laundromats and stores were the dirtiest. Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer after coming in contact.
Shopping carts. The cart you’re pushing around may have had a runny-nosed toddler in it before you picked it up, not to mention the many sets of dirty hands that could have been pushing the cart around earlier in the day. Many stores provide disinfectant wipes near the entrance where you pick up a cart. Use them.
Surface types and temperature affect infection duration and potency
Because this is a new coronavirus, scientists are still seeking definitive answers about how variables such as surface type and temperature impact its potency and duration. The study in the Journal of Hospital Infection analyzed similar coronaviruses and found higher temperatures (86°F or more) reduced the duration and potency of the virus.
As for how long the virus remains active on different surface types, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield recently told U.S. lawmakers, “on copper and steel it’s pretty much about two hours.” Redfield went on to say the duration on other surface types such as cardboard or plastic is longer, and research is ongoing.
The CDC says the risk of shipped products or packaging carrying the virus is low, especially when shipped over a period of days or weeks. The Food and Drug Administration reports it has found no evidence of imported goods transmitting the virus, and it continues inspections in China where the outbreak has been most severe.
Disinfect surfaces to destroy the virus
The study in the Journal of Hospital Infection found that disinfectants were effective in killing similar coronaviruses with one minute of exposure to the disinfectant. Other health organizations, from the CDC to the World Health Organization (WHO) all concur that cleaning frequently touched items and surfaces with a germ-killing household cleaning spray or wipe is effective at preventing the spread of the virus. But similar to effective hand washing, the process must be thorough and done in a manner that doesn’t spread germs even further.
Use a disinfecting cleaner. The label should say the product kills germs. Bleach-based wipes and products containing ethanol are effective. Hydrogen peroxide products are less effective.
Give the product time to work. Don’t immediately wipe off a disinfectant spray. Let it sit for a minute so all the germs are killed.
Throw away wipes after one use. Wiping down multiple surfaces with the same wipe might just spread the germs around. Throw it away before you move on to another item.
While you’ve likely read or heard these instructions already, proper hand washing is a first-line defense against coronavirus, so it’s worth repeating. The profoundly simple act of hand washing doesn’t convey the dramatic results it actually delivers against all types of diseases and illnesses. According to the CDC, hand washing can reduce stomach illnesses in school children by at least 30 percent, and reduce the number of people getting sick with diarrhea by as much as 40 percent. As you count down those 20 seconds of hand washing time, remind yourself of the humanitarian value of what you’re doing, and feel good about it!
Follow these procedures to wash your hands thoroughly:
- Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
- Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
- Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
- Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
- Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.
Major health organizations such as the CDC and WHO don’t currently recommend that healthy people wear facemasks to avoid exposure to coronavirus. The masks don’t form a total seal, so germs can still get in and around it. The mask can become infected through contact with dirty surfaces, so it may provide a false sense of security. Facemasks are recommended, in combination with other measures such as hand washing, for people caring for someone suspected of having the infection or health workers.