What You Need To Know About Coronavirus: How it Spreads, How to Disinfect, and How Long It Lives On Surfaces

What You Need To Know About Coronavirus: How it Spreads, How to Disinfect, and How Long It Lives On Surfaces

COVID-19, short for "coronavirus disease 2019," is the official name given by the World Health Organization (WHO) to the disease caused by this newly identified Coronavirus. Because it's new, we are still learning about how it spreads and the severity of the illness it causes. 

COVID-19: Learn how it spreads and your best defense

The Coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is spread mainly from person to person. Harvard Health Publishing says, "A person infected with Coronavirus — even one with no symptoms — may emit aerosols when they talk or breathe. Aerosols are infectious viral particles that can float or drift around in the air for up to three hours." A healthy person can then breathe in those particles. 

The virus also can spread from contact with infected surfaces or objects. For example, you can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes.

Person-to-person spread

What you need to know:

  • The virus can spread between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet).
  • It spreads through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks.
  • These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby, or you can inhale these droplets into your lungs.
  • Some recent studies have suggested that people who are not showing symptoms may spread COVID-19.
  • Aerosol particles can remain airborne for up to 3 hours. 

How long does the virus live on surfaces?

Researchers still have a lot to learn about COVID-19. They don't know whether exposure to heat, cold, or sunlight affects how long it lives on surfaces. There is, however, growing research that shows it behaves much like other coronaviruses. In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) on March 17, 2020, researchers found that the virus that causes COVID-19 can live on surfaces for up to three days. 

This study showed the virus lived:

  • On copper: Up to 4 hours
  • On cardboard: Up to 24 hours
  • On plastic: 2 to 3 days
  • On stainless steel: 2 to 3 days

Your home checklist for frequently touched surfaces

✔ Tables

✔ Doorknobs

✔ Light switches

✔ Countertops

✔ Handles

✔ Desks, 

✔ Phones

✔ Keyboards

✔ Toilets

✔ Faucets

✔ Sinks

✔ Bedside tables

How to clean and disinfect hard surfaces for COVID-19

To reduce your chance of catching or spreading Coronavirus, clean and disinfect all "high-touch" surfaces in your home every day. Remember to wear gloves. If dirty, you can clean using a detergent and water before disinfecting. Be sure to dry the surface thoroughly. A list of products suitable for use against COVID-19 is available here. This list has been pre-approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for use during the COVID-19 outbreak.

How to clean and disinfect soft surfaces for COVID-19

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends you clean, soft surfaces such as clothing, linens, carpeted floor, rugs, and drapes using soap and water or according to instructions provided by the manufacturer. For clothing, towels, sheets, etc. use the warmest water setting appropriate and be sure to dry completely. Use gloves to clean soft surfaces and be sure to disinfect any hampers used for dirty laundry. When finished disinfecting, remove gloves and wash your hands right away.

Can Coronavirus live on my mail and other packages?

The Surgeon General, CDC, and WHO have consistently said there is currently no evidence that COVID-19 is being spread through the mail or on packages. According to WHO, "the likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low, and the risk of catching the virus that causes COVID-19 from a package that has moved, traveled, and been exposed to different conditions and temperature is also low." And the CDC says, "in general, because of poor survivability of these Coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely very low risk of spread from products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient temperatures."

Your best defense against COVID-19: stay informed and wash your hands

The best way to prevent and slow down the transmission of COVID-19 is be well informed about the virus, its symptoms, and how it spreads. Hand washing still is your best defense. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after bringing in packages, trips to the grocery store, and going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Always wash your hands with soap and water if your hands are visibly dirty.

To stay informed about how to protect yourself and what to do if you're sick, follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's site. This site allows you to sign up for Coronavirus email updates and access Federal Resources such as Coronavirus.gov and USA.gov/Coronavirus.

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