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Workers disinfect subway trains against coronavirus in Tehran, Iran, in the early morning of Feb. 25, 2020. (AP) Workers disinfect subway trains against coronavirus in Tehran, Iran, in the early morning of Feb. 25, 2020. (AP)

Workers disinfect subway trains against coronavirus in Tehran, Iran, in the early morning of Feb. 25, 2020. (AP)

Daniel Funke
By Daniel Funke March 20, 2020

Novel coronavirus could live up to 3 days, depending on the surface

If Your Time is short

  • Preliminary research indicates that COVID-19 can live for up to three hours in the air, four hours on copper, 24 hours on cardboard and three days on plastic and stainless steel.

  • Health officials advise people to wash their hands regularly, avoid touching their faces and disinfect their homes daily to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The No. 1 thing Americans can do to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is wash their hands. That’s because you can contract the virus by touching surfaces that have the respiratory droplets of an infected person on them.

But how long can coronavirus germs live on those surfaces? An infographic from KIRO-TV in Seattle offers some clarity.

According to the graphic, which was published March 18 on Facebook, the coronavirus can live for "up to 3 hours in the air, up to 4 hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard up to 3 days on plastic and stainless steel."

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) But in this case, the latest research backs it up — so keep washing your hands and disinfecting your home.

The graphic cites an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine on March 17. Researchers tested how long the coronavirus, formally called SARS-CoV-2, lived on five different surfaces: aerosols, plastic, stainless steel, copper and cardboard.

"SARS-CoV-2 remained viable in aerosols throughout the duration of our experiment (3 hours)," the authors wrote. "SARS-CoV-2 was more stable on plastic and stainless steel than on copper and cardboard."

Aside from air, the worst surface for the virus is copper; researchers could only detect viable virus particles there for up to four hours. On cardboard, they could not detect any after 24 hours. The coronavirus lives the longest on plastic and stainless steel — up to three days.

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It’s worth noting that the article is not a peer-reviewed study, and researchers tested the lifespan of SARS-CoV-2 in a lab setting. But their findings reflect what others have found about the potential longevity of the coronavirus outside the body.

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How Long Coronavirus Stays Active on Surfaces⁠ ⁠ A new unpublished, un-peer reviewed analysis has received some attention in recent days for its findings that the #COVID19 virus can remain viable in the air for up to 3 hours, on copper for up to 4 hours, on cardboard up to 24 hours and on plastic and stainless steel up to 2 to 3 days. ⁠ ⁠ To date, there have been no published studies specifically looking at the novel #Coronavirus but there was research published this past February in The Journal of Hospital Infection which analyzed several dozen previously published papers on human coronaviruses. While it did not include #COVID_19, it may provide a better idea of how long this pathogen can survive outside of the body. ⁠ ⁠ The authors concluded that if this new coronavirus resembles other human coronaviruses, such as its "cousins" that cause #SARS and #MERS, it can stay on surfaces — such as metal, glass or plastic — for as long as nine days. ⁠ ⁠ This is in comparison to flu viruses which can last on surfaces for only about 48 hours.⁠ ⁠ But there are some important caveats to consider. Some #coronavirus don't remain active for as long at temperatures higher than 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius). ⁠ ⁠ The authors also found that coronaviruses can be effectively wiped away by common household disinfectants. ⁠ ⁠ For now that is the best information we have.⁠ ⁠ To follow the continually updated coronavirus dashboard, tap the link in our bio and bookmark the page.⁠ ⁠ ⁠ ⁠ ⁠

A post shared by Medscape (@medscape) on

An article published in the Journal of Hospital Infection in March reviewed what other scientists have found about how long human coronaviruses can survive on different surfaces. The authors found that viruses like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), which are both similar to COVID-19, could live for a couple of days on steel, plastic, wood, paper and glass surfaces.

What about money, which many Americans handle every day? The World Health Organization advises people to wash their hands with soap and water after handling banknotes, coins and credit cards.

The Journal of Hospital Infection article says human coronaviruses could live on paper for anywhere between one to five days. The U.S. Dollar is made up of 75% cotton and 25% linen, as opposed to wood pulp, which is the base for most paper.

Still, you’re probably safer handling coins. The New England Journal of Medicine article found that COVID-19 can only survive for up to four hours on copper, which is what quarters, nickels and dimes are primarily made of. Ironically, pennies are made primarily of zinc, although they have a copper exterior.

Based on the information available, KIRO-TV’s infographic is accurate. But we’ll issue a small note of caution because the study has not been peer-reviewed. Mostly True.

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Novel coronavirus could live up to 3 days, depending on the surface

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