How long does coronavirus live on metal? Plastic? Cardboard? We have expert answers

·4 min read

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(Graphic by Quinn Lemmers for Yahoo Lifestyle)
(Graphic by Quinn Lemmers for Yahoo Lifestyle)

It’s been drilled into us by now: Wash your hands multiple times a day to reduce the risk of contracting coronavirus. But what about the dangers of shared surfaces? The counter at the grocery store, the handle on the gas pump, the ATM keypad. According to experts, venturing out at all means coming in contact with surfaces that could carry COVID-19.

“Droplets can stay on surfaces for several days, increasing the risk of infection,” says Susan Besser, MD, a primary care physician at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. “So, be careful what you touc

Surfaces and the spread of infection

According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), COVID-19 is mainly spread from person to person through respiratory droplets released when an infected person coughs or sneezes. But the virus can also spread when someone touches an infected surface, then touches their mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes.

SARS-CoV-2—the virus that causes COVID-19—can live on pretty much any surface for some amount of time. But some surfaces retain it longer than others. As Rajeev Fernando, MD, an infectious disease expert in Southampton, NY, tells Yahoo Lifestyle, those surface that are frequently touched by many hands are especially risky. This includes door handles, shopping carts at the grocery store, hand rails, and park bench arm rests, he says: “One should be even more wary of these high-touch areas.”

Research published in The New England Journal of Medicine reveals the length of time that SARS-CoV-2—the virus that causes COVID-19—can live on various services:

  • on plastic: 72 hours

  • on steel: 72 hours

  • on glass: 72 hours

  • on cardboard: 24 hours

  • on copper: 4 hours

Staying safe

How can you minimize risk regarding the surfaces you interact with every day? Dr. Fernando says just what you’d imagine: After coming in contact with any potentially problematic surface, wash your hands well with soap and water or with alcohol-based hand sanitizer. (Keep in mind that inventory is selling out rapidly, but retailers are continually restocking, so keep checking). It’s especially important that you wash up before handling your own belongings.

Says Aline M. Holmes, DNP, RN, a clinical associate professor at Rutgers University School of Nursing, you should avoid using your phone before you can clean your hands: “You want to keep this virus away from your hands and mouth” she says. “Touching your phone with unwashed hands isn’t a good idea.”

Holmes also recommends disinfecting items of your own that you use frequently—because you could be inadvertently transmitting germs: your steering wheel, your car door handles, and the doorknobs in your home, to name a few. Clean regularly with disinfectant spray or a disinfectant wipe, Holmes says. (Keep in mind that inventory is selling out rapidly, but retailers are continually restocking, so keep checking).

Don't touch your mouth, nose or eyes after touching a doorknob.
Don't touch your mouth, nose or eyes after touching a doorknob.

If you’re still leaving the house to go to work, Holmes recommends washing hands as soon as you come home—and tossing the clothes you’re wearing directly into the washing machine. Says Holmes, “You don’t know what’s on your clothes.”

This is all just more motivation for being vigilant about smart, protective practices: Wash hands often, disinfect surfaces you touch, try to keep your hands off your face—and stay home. Fernando sums it up: “hand-sanitize away,” but “social distancing is the number one way to stay safe.”

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