As the coronavirus pandemic spreads, we've asked readers what they most want to know about its impact, prevention and treatment. This is an answer to one of those questions. You can find more answers here.


Can the coronavirus live on surfaces outside the body, things like canned goods, packaging, mail?

The most common method of catching COVID-19 illness is by inhaling respiratory droplets created when an infected person sneezes or coughs, especially through close contact over a sustained time period. “We know that your highest risk is in being close contact with another person who is in their acute phase of infection,” said Dr. Alison Peterson of Allina Health's United Hospital. “If a [sick] person coughs into your face that is high risk.” However, it is possible that the novel coronavirus could be on surfaces, such as door handles, elevator buttons and other things that get touched frequently. That is why health officials are emphasizing the importance of washing your hands and not touching your face.

“It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Ultimately, researchers can’t prove that surfaces are totally safe, which is why they ask people to take some precautions for protection from COVID-19 as well as other diseases such as influenza and the common cold. The risk is even lower for packages that are shipped weeks ago or from long distances. “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,” according to the CDC. It is good practice to clean surfaces at home using products containing bleach or 70% alcohol. “Wipe down commonly touched surfaces. Use appropriate precautions in your home that would do with the common respiratory illnesses,” said Peterson. The Environmental Protection Agency has guidelines for which products to use against SARS-CoV-2.

COVID-19 and other coronaviruses can live on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days, according to the World Health Organization, depending on the type of surface and the temperature and humidity. One recent study, which has not yet been reviewed by other scientists, found the novel coronavirus was viable up on copper up to 4 hour, up to 24 hours on cardboard and two to three days on plastic and stainless steel.

READ: No, you can't kill coronavirus by drinking warm water. Debunking that viral Facebook post.