Coronavirus can remain infectious in droplets in the air for hours and on some surfaces up to three days, according to a new study.
The virus spreads between people who are in close contact with one another through respiratory droplets, much like the common cold or flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC has said there is likely very low risk of transmission of COVID-19 from products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks “because of poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces.”
But a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Tuesday found that viable virus could be detected up to three hours later in the air, up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel.
“We’re not by any way saying there is aerosolized transmission of the virus,” but this work shows that the virus stays viable for long periods in those conditions, so it’s theoretically possible, study leader Neeltje van Doremalen at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases told the Associated Press.
Scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institutes of Health, Princeton and UCLA used a device to dispense an aerosol that mimicked the microscopic droplets created when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
The virus was deposited onto surfaces including plastic, stainless steel, cardboard and copper to represent a variety of household and hospital settings. Over time the amount of viable virus on these surfaces decreased sharply.
Experts say this doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be worried about coronavirus lingering on boxes delivered by Amazon or on your takeout food bag.
“The paper that recently published, these are under ideal sort of experimental situations,” said Joseph Vinetz, a professor of medicine at Yale University and infectious disease researcher who was not affiliated with the study. “If somebody were to, say, cough … on a box or on a letter, the chances of that remaining viable for the period of time it’s in transit seems extremely unlikely.”