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How Long Can A Virus Live On A Surface?

June 2, 2020

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently put out a warning saying it may be possible for you to contract Covid-19 by touching contaminated surfaces or objects and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes. But many experts don’t believe this is the main way the coronavirus spreads. 

As lockdowns lift, more of us are going to come in contact with surfaces that other people have touched, such as doorknobs, shopping carts and products. But how concerned should you be?

Let’s break down the latest information from the CDC to help you determine a safe approach.

Where Viruses Live

We learned early on that viruses can linger on surfaces. For instance, preliminary research published in the New England Journal of Medicine in April, suggests coronavirus can stay on plastic and stainless steel for 72 hours, cardboard for 24 hours, and copper for four hours. 

Research in The Lancet, which was published around the same time, found that the infectious virus survived on the outer layer of a surgical mask for a week.

The early scientific advice seemed to encourage people to treat surface contact with the utmost seriousness. More recent research suggests that all identified outbreaks of three or more cases occurred in an indoor environment, which confirms that sharing indoor space is a major infection risk. It backs the claim that few people get the virus by touching a surface, but are more at risk when they share a space with someone who’s sick. 

The main transmission mechanism appears to be close contact with someone who has the virus. And when you do things like talk face-to-face with that person or sit near them in an indoor setting, you’re exposed to enough of a “viral load” to become infected.

CDC Offers Guidance

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently clarified its guidance on the subject by stating: “It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this isn’t thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”

So, it doesn’t appear to be common, but it does seem possible that you can get the virus by touching an infected surface and then touching your face. Objects that a small number of other people briefly touch, like groceries and shopping bags, seem to present a very small risk. But you should worry more about face-to-face conversations and extended time in indoor spaces with people who are outside your household. 

To stay safe, be vigilant about washing your hands after touching shared surfaces either with handsoap for 20 seconds or a hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol. 

If you’re still not sure about heading out to the store or even a doctor’s appointment, there are some options. You can have groceries delivered and you can set up a telehealth appointment with your doctor. To learn more about telehealth you can watch a video with North Ohio Heart/Ohio Medical Group Physician, Dr. Matthew Stevens. He answers the most frequently asked questions he gets about telehealth from his patients.

What to expect during a telehealth visit