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How Long Does the Virus Stay on Surfaces?

Information as of March 30, 2020.

Recent data surrounding SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), suggests that the virus can last on surfaces for hours to a number of days. The recent study from the New England Journal of Medicine provides key information about the characteristics of the virus, which has impacted over 720,000 people globally to date. (Johns Hopkins University, CSSE).

 According to the study, which was conducted by researchers from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIH), UCLA, Princeton University, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, SARS-CoV-2 was tested in five different conditions: aerosols, plastic, stainless steel, copper, and cardboard. The study found that the virus remained stable in aerosols for up to three hours, compared to stainless steel and plastic surfaces, where the virus could be detected for up to 2 or 3 days. On copper surfaces, the virus was stable for four hours, and on cardboard up to 24 hours.

The results of this study suggest the possibility of contracting the new coronavirus by touching contaminated surfaces or through the air. With the rapid global spread of SARS-CoV-2, this data helps inform the current prevention measures for the virus, which include hand washing, avoiding touching one’s face, and a number of social distancing measures. 

Scientists are still working to understand the differences between the new coronavirus and SARS-CoV-1, the virus that causes SARS. Compared to SARS-CoV-1, the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) was found to have similar stability on surfaces and in the air.  However, the research indicates that one possible reason for the differences in how the two viruses spread, could be the fact that the new coronavirus is highly contagious when an individual is asymptomatic, or presents no symptoms.

This data enhances the current prevention and mitigation procedures for the virus, echoed by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. The virus’ ability to stay on surfaces for significant periods of time helps inform best practices and prevention methods in the efforts to effectively control spread. 

More detailed information can be found within the original research article:

Citation: van Doremalen, N., Bushmaker, T., Morris, D. H., Holbrook, M. G., Gamble, A., Williamson, B. N., Tamin, A., Harcourt, J., Thornburg, N.J., Gerber, S.I., Lloyd-Smith, J.O., de Wit, E., and Munster, V.J. (2020). Aerosol and Surface Stability of SARS-CoV-2 as Compared with SARS-CoV-1. New England Journal of Medicine.


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