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New Research Sheds Light on How Long Coronavirus Can Survive on Cardboard, Plastic and Steel

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Mar 19, 2020

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Image Credit: AP

Here’s some good news — we may be less likely to contract the novel strain of coronavirus from cardboard packages if we order in during this dystopian quarantine, suggests a new study, published yesterday in the New England Journal of Medicine, that examined how long the virus survives on different surfaces like plastic, stainless steel, copper, and cardboard, and in air.

The landmark study revealed the virus behind Covid19 effectively withers away in about 24 hours on cardboard, making the risk of getting infected from mail-order packages contaminated at the point of origin minimal – unless, of course, the delivery person is infected, and has coughed or sneezed on the package, or touched it with contaminated hands, the study authors note.

This makes Amazon, Flipkart, or FedEx parcels a safer risk — given their time spent in transit — than boxed grocery deliveries or take-away food packaging, which are delivered almost immediately. But again — if the delivery person themselves is infected, the contamination on the package will be fresh enough to contaminate the receiver — so it’s still best to handle shipped packages with care, letting them sit for 24 hours at least before handling.


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The study findings weren’t all good news, however. Contrary to what experts have previously believed, the researchers found coronavirus can stay suspended in air for about 30 minutes in microscopic droplets known as aerosols. This finding is most concerning for healthcare workers, The New York Times reports, who are most likely to be in close quarters with patients who have sneezed and coughed, releasing viral aerosols; some health workers may also be at risk when taking off their protective gear, to which droplets may cling, releasing them into the air again as the gear is moved around.

For the average person, however, social distancing should protect against the risk of airborne transmission.

Copper surfaces performed the best in this research, allowing the strain to survive only up to four hours.

The study also examined the survival of the novel coronavirus on plastic and stainless steel, noting that the virus survives up to 72 hours on these surfaces — confirming previous reports on this topic. However, the researchers clarify that while the virus can survive for up to three days, the amount of viable virus reduces as the clock ticks away during this period, making the chance of infection less — though still possible — as the days progress.

While the new study adds clarity around a particularly unknown and confusing topic, the researchers stressed their findings were not the final word.

“We need more experiments like this, in particular, extending the experimental sampling time for aerosolized virus beyond three hours and testing survival under different temperature and humidity conditions,” Dr. Jeffrey Shaman, an environmental health sciences expert at Columbia University, told The New York Times.

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Written By Devrupa Rakshit

Devrupa Rakshit is an associate editor with The Swaddle. She is a lawyer by education, a poet by accident, and a painter by shaukh. She has her own podcast called #DateNightsWithD on Spotify. You can find her on Instagram @devruparakshit.

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