Posted on: March 16, 2020 at 7:43 pm
Last updated: October 15, 2020 at 3:08 pm

The coronavirus, or COVID-19, has now reached pandemic levels in Europe North America, and Asia, and experts are warning that it could potentially infect up to sixty percent of the world’s population

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While there is much we still don’t know about the virus, scientists at the very least understand how it is spread– not through the air, but through small respiratory droplets [1].

There is other evidence that it could also be transmitted through fecal matter, or indirectly through the touching of contaminated surfaces [2].

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Based on knowledge of other coronaviruses, such as the SARS outbreak of 2003, the World Health Organization (WHO) had previously given a wide estimate as to how long the virus can last on a surface of a few hours or up to several days [3].

A recent study, however, has confirmed that the novel coronavirus can last on surfaces for up to 72 hours.

The Study’s Findings

Researchers at the Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Montanna performed a series of experiments comparing COVID-19 to SARS. 

James Lloyd-Smith, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Los Angeles, explained that the researchers would pick up the virus from contaminated surfaces and put it into cell cultures. They would then wait to see if the virus would infect the cells in the dish, and repeat this multiple times at various time points [4].

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They found that the virus could last different lengths of time depending on the surface it was collected from. The survival rates were as follows:

Copper: four hours
Cardboard: 24 hours
Plastic: two to three days
Stainless Steel: two to three days [5]

This is important information to have since the virus can be transmitted from a sick person to a doorknob, handrail, elevator button, or countertop, and then be picked up by someone else [4].

Read: Scientists Confirm a Person Can Carry And Transmit COVID-19 Without Showing Symptoms

Other Factors that Affect Survival Rate

Lloyd-Smith explained that these findings provide a good benchmark for the survivability of the virus on these surfaces, but don’t necessarily translate perfectly to the real world.

“In a laboratory experiment, the conditions are pretty carefully controlled and constant,” he says. “In the real world, conditions fluctuate” [4].

Factors such as temperature, humidity, and light, could change the length of time the virus can survive on a surface. For example, ultraviolet light is a very powerful disinfectant, and we get a lot of UV light from the sun.

“Direct sunlight can help rapidly diminish infectivity of viruses on surfaces,” explained Daniel Kuritzkes, an infectious disease expert at Brigham and Women’s Hospital [4].

For this reason, if the virus lands on a surface that receives a lot of direct sunlight, like a sunny windowsill, it may not survive as long.

Scientists are still unsure as to how long the novel coronavirus can survive on rough surfaces like clothing or carpets, it does appear that hard, flat surfaces are better carriers [4].

Kuritzkes also explained that food doesn’t seem to pose a huge threat since most COVID-19 cases start in the respiratory tract, not the digestive system. 

“Of more concern would be utensils, and plates and cups that might be handled by a large number of people in a cafeteria setting, for example,” he said [4].

How to Properly Disinfect a Surface

COVID-19 does not require any unique chemicals to clean surfaces or hands, and soap and water have proven to be just as effective as anything else.

Outside of soap and water, any products you use should have an ammonia or alcohol base. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has put together a list of recommended products that are effective against the COVID-19 virus.

You can also make a bleach-based disinfectant spray by mixing four teaspoons of bleach with one quart of water [6].

Although hand-washing is the best solution, alcohol-based hand sanitizer is an effective replacement when a sink is not available. Since hand sanitizer is hard to find these days, you can make your own by mixing rubbing alcohol with aloe vera gel, but it has to be at least sixty percent alcohol in order to be effective [4].

Try this DIY recipe if you can’t get your hands on sanitizer from the store.

Read: How to Prep For a Quarantine

Wash. Your. Hands.

You’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it again- washing your hands is the number one way to prevent the spread of germs, particularly in the case of COVID-19. Especially if you’ve been out touching a lot of surfaces [4].

Simply washing your hands, however, is not enough. It is also important that you wash them properly to ensure you are eliminating as many germs as possible. Here are the steps to proper hand-washing, as recommended by the CDC:

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them [7].

It is also important to clean other commonly-used surfaces, like your cell phone, which can harbor a variety of potential pathogens.

Finally, health experts are recommending that you avoid touching your face, particularly your eyes, nose, and mouth since this is the easiest way to transmit the virus. 

“If you have touched a table or a doorknob or some surface contaminated [with the virus] and then touch your eyes, nose or mouth, you have a chance of inoculating yourself with the virus,” said Kuritzkes [4].

To summarize, best practice concerning COVID-19 includes washing your hands frequently and thoroughly, cleaning surfaces with appropriate disinfectants, and of course, maintaining social isolation to avoid the spread of germs.

Keep Reading: How to Distinguish between the Coronavirus and Flu

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Brittany Hambleton
Team Writer
Brittany is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition and a writer’s certificate from the University of Western Ontario. She enjoyed a stint as a personal trainer and is an avid runner. Brittany loves to combine running and traveling, and has run numerous races across North America and Europe. She also loves chocolate more than anything else… the darker, the better!

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