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Coronavirus prevention flyers attached to a fence of the town's community center are shown on March 21, 2020, in Surfside, Fla. (AP) Coronavirus prevention flyers attached to a fence of the town's community center are shown on March 21, 2020, in Surfside, Fla. (AP)

Coronavirus prevention flyers attached to a fence of the town's community center are shown on March 21, 2020, in Surfside, Fla. (AP)

Daniel Funke
By Daniel Funke March 25, 2020

Audio shared on Facebook Messenger spreads false information about coronavirus prevention

If Your Time is short

  • An audio message lists 10 ways people can avoid contracting COVID-19. We fact-checked five of the most questionable claims.

  • There is no evidence that sipping water every 20 minutes or exposing your clothing to the sun can help prevent the coronavirus.

  • Officials advise people to wash their hands, but not every 20 minutes, as the message claims. There’s also no evidence that consuming cold things makes you more susceptible to the virus.

  • There’s no proof that the coronavirus can live for up to nine days on metallic surfaces. A preliminary study suggests it can remain viable on stainless steel for up to three days.

A false post about COVID-19 is being shared in a new format on Facebook.

In an audio message that a reader sent us on March 23, a woman with a British accent lists 10 ways that people can avoid being infected with the coronavirus. The message claims to be based on research from Chinese scientists.

"It was sent to me by a colleague who has a friend that works at Dr. Negrin, which is the main hospital on our island," says the woman on the audio message. "It’s obviously in Spanish, so I’m just going to read it and translate it for you."

University Hospital of Gran Canaria Dr. Negrin is located in the city of Las Palmas on Gran Canaria, one of Spain’s Canary Islands. The island chain’s tourism industry has been hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here’s some of the questionable medical advice in the audio message that caught our eye:

  • "Take a sip of warm water every 20 minutes"
  • Hang clothes "in direct sunlight, which also neutralizes the virus"
  • "Wash your hands every 20 minutes"
  • "Try to avoid eating and drinking cold things"
  • "Wash metallic surfaces very carefully because the virus can remain viable on these for up to nine days"

If some of those claims sound familiar, it’s because many of them have been circulating on social media in some form since January, when the World Health Organization addressed a slew of COVID-19 rumors on Twitter. We’ve also debunked several bogus coronavirus prevention and treatment methods.

But this audio message was new to us, so we decided to check out each of the five claims. All of them either lack evidence or have been debunked by public health officials.

"Take a sip of warm water every 20 minutes"

This is inaccurate — we rated a similar claim False.

While health experts recommend drinking water regularly to stay healthy, there is no evidence that sipping some every 20 minutes can help prevent coronavirus infection. 

The primary way the virus spreads is through close contact with infected people and respiratory droplets, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When someone with the coronavirus coughs or sneezes, their germs land on surfaces around them. The virus then infects people who touch those surfaces and then their eyes, nose or mouth.

So to prevent contracting the coronavirus, the CDC advises people to avoid touching their face as much as possible. Other ways to prevent infection include washing your hands with soap and water, covering your coughs and sneezes with a tissue and regularly sanitizing the surfaces in your home or at your workstation. As of now, there is no specific treatment for the virus.

In a tweet published Feb. 7, the WHO said it does not advise people to drink water as a way to avoid coronavirus infection.

Hang clothes "in direct sunlight, which also neutralizes the virus"

While air-drying your clothes may save you some money on your electricity bill, there is no evidence it will kill the coronavirus. We’ve rated similar claims False.

There is ample evidence that viruses, including human coronaviruses, don’t like heat. Influenza, for example, thrives in dry, cold weather, which is one reason the flu season typically spans from fall to spring. And high-intensity UV light can kill viruses

RELATED: Stop sharing myths about preventing the coronavirus. Here are 4 real ways to protect yourself

But that doesn’t mean sun exposure kills the coronavirus. Experts told us natural sunlight doesn’t provide the UV intensity needed to kill the virus, and the WHO says on its website that COVID-19 can be transmitted in all climates, "including areas with hot and humid weather."

Neither the WHO nor the CDC lists sunlight exposure as a method to kill the coronavirus. In fact, the WHO has debunked the claim, saying "there is no evidence that sunlight kills the new coronavirus."

"Wash your hands every 20 minutes"

Public health officials say washing your hands is one of the primary ways to prevent COVID-19 infection. But if you’re healthy and in self-isolation, there is probably little reason to lather up so frequently.

The CDC recommends washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds at a time — "especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing."

On its website, UNICEF lists a few more examples of when people should wash their hands: "after touching surfaces outside the home, including money; before, during and after caring for a sick person; and before and after eating."

So if you’re doing any of those things every 20 minutes, you may want to wash your hands. 

"Try to avoid eating and drinking cold things"

This claim is baseless.

As we’ve covered before, there is evidence that human coronaviruses don’t like heat. But just as there’s no scientific proof that hot things prevent COVID-19, there’s no proof that cold things make you more susceptible.

This claim is similar to one made in a fake UNICEF handout that circulated on Facebook in early March. It said people should "stay away from ice cream and eating cold" to avoid contracting COVID-19.

In a statement, UNICEF debunked that claim. On its website, the WHO did, too.

"There is no scientific evidence that eating hygienically made frozen food and ice-cream spreads the new coronavirus," the organization says.

"Wash metallic surfaces very carefully because the virus can remain viable on these for up to nine days"

There’s no evidence to support this.

An article published in the New England Journal of Medicine on March 17 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."

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

Aside from air, the least hospitable medium for the virus was copper; researchers could detect viable virus particles there for only 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.

That’s far from nine days, as the audio message claimed. And while the journal article hasn’t been peer-reviewed, its findings are similar to those of other researchers.

An article published in the Journal of Hospital Infection in March reviewed what other scientists have found about the surface viability of various coronaviruses that infect humans, such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), which are both similar to COVID-19. The authors wrote that scientists found some of these viruses could live for up to five days on steel, and eight hours on aluminum. Another study they cited found a SARS virus strain remaining viable for up to five days on an unspecified metal.

The article did find that one strain of SARS could live for up to nine days on plastic surfaces. But two other strains of the virus remained viable for only five days or less, and MERS could live for only up to 48 hours at a certain temperature.

More recently, a March 23 report from the CDC said novel coronavirus RNA was found on surfaces on the Diamond Princess cruise ship 17 days after passengers disembarked. That finding raised questions about whether the coronavirus can last longer on some surfaces than previously thought, but researchers have noted that viral RNA doesn’t necessarily mean live virus was present.

Our ruling

A chain audio message on Facebook Messenger lists 10 ways to prevent infection from COVID-19. We fact-checked five and found them inaccurate.

First, there is no evidence that sipping water every 20 minutes can help prevent coronavirus infection. There is also no evidence that exposing your clothing to the sun will kill the coronavirus.

Health officials recommend that people avoid touching their face and wash their hands for at least 20 seconds at a time —  not every 20 minutes, as the message claims. There’s also no evidence that consuming cold things makes you more susceptible to the virus.

Finally, while the science is far from settled, there’s no proof that the coronavirus can live for up to nine days on metallic surfaces. The best available evidence suggests that it can remain viable on stainless steel for up to three days.

We rate the claims False.

If you receive a chain message that you want us to fact-check, send a screenshot to [email protected] or forward it to us on Facebook.

Our Sources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): How Coronavirus Spreads, accessed March 25, 2020

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): How to Protect Yourself, accessed March 25, 2020

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Get the Facts: Drinking Water and Intake, accessed March 25, 2020

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Human Coronavirus Types, accessed March 25, 2020

Columbia University Irving Medical Center, "Can UV Light Fight the Spread of Influenza?" Feb. 9, 2018

Epidemiology and Infection, "Environmental factors on the SARS epidemic: air temperature, passage of time and multiplicative effect of hospital infection," April 2006

Harvard Medical School, "The Reason for the Season: why flu strikes in winter," Dec. 1, 2014

Journal of Hospital Infection, "Persistence of coronaviruses on inanimate surfaces and their inactivation with biocidal agents," March 2020

Journal of Medical Virology, "Inactivation of 12 viruses by heating steps applied during manufacture of a hepatitis B vaccine," November 1987

MIT Technology Review, "Coronavirus might last on surfaces for a lot longer than we thought," March 24, 2020

New England Journal of Medicine, "Aerosol and Surface Stability of SARS-CoV-2 as Compared with SARS-CoV-1," March 17, 2020

PolitiFact, "Drinking water does not prevent coronavirus infection," March 11, 2020

PolitiFact, "No, sunlight has not been proven to kill coronavirus," March 20, 2020

PolitiFact, "Stop sharing myths about preventing the coronavirus. Here are 4 real ways to protect yourself," March 5, 2020

PolitiFact, "Sun exposure does not kill the coronavirus," March 11, 2020

Reuters, "Coronavirus impact is overwhelming, Spain's hotels association says," March 6, 2020

Statement from UNICEF, March 6, 2020

Tweet from Tara Smith, March 23, 2020

Tweet from the World Health Organization, Feb. 7, 2020

Twitter thread from the World Health Organization, Jan. 29, 2020

UNICEF, "Everything you need to know about washing your hands to protect against coronavirus (COVID-19)," March 13, 2020

World Health Organization, Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public, accessed March 25, 2020

World Health Organization, "COVID-19 virus can be transmitted in areas with hot and humid climates," accessed March 25, 2020

World Health Organization, Fact or Fiction, accessed March 25, 2020

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