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How long does COVID-19 “live” on a surface?

I have heard a lot of confused and misinformed conversations about the “threat” of COVID-19 and surfaces. In fact there are some sources of great information and some good guidance. While aerosolization and droplets are known methods of transfer, surfaces (just like with many other respiratory illnesses) surface contact and spread of COVID-19 is an even greater mechanism. This has nothing to do with virulence, it has to do with human habit.We touch our faces; our noses, eyes, chins, lips, mouths and hair frequently. In fact, we are a species that self-caresses like crazy. When it comes to COVID-19 that provides a perfect and pervasive means for transfer and infection.

Wash your hands.

This is why we in the medical community, keep harping on the concept of hygiene, of hand washing, of surface cleansing. In particular, surfaces have been studied and the “viability” or survivability of the virus on different surfaces has been investigated and reported in the following report.

In short, it indicates:“The virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is stable for several hours to days in aerosols and on surfaces, according to a new study from National Institutes of Health, CDC, UCLA and Princeton University scientists in The New England Journal of Medicine. The scientists found that severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) was detectable in aerosols for up to three hours, up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel. The results provide key information about the stability of SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19 disease, and suggests that people may acquire the virus through the air and after touching contaminated objects.”

This is really useful information for home and facility disinfection and protection.

What does it mean?

Well, these retentions of the virus on surfaces only apply if the surface or material is NOT cleaned. The survival of the virus, when an EPA REGISTERED cleanser is utilized, is reduced to the amount of time it takes for the surface to dry. That is great news.

Not everyone is as smart as you.

It’s true. It is also true that being aware and taking individual action to protect yourself is critical. Don’t assume anything. Don’t assume that a surface has been cleaned. If you touch it, wash your hands immediately. Don’t delay it. Without thinking, you could touch your face, scratch an itch or otherwise negate a perfect personal hygiene record with a single action. Of course, if you can’t wash, hand sanitizer is the next best thing.

Matthew Minson, MD is a physician and has served as a local, state and federal health official. He serves as a principal member of the NFPA 473 and 475 committee addressing responder protections in HazMat and Weapons of Mass Destruction Environments and he has been a medical director for FEMA/USAR with deployments to the World Trade Center, Hurricane’s Katrina and Rita, The Haiti Earthquake Response and the H1N1 response. His books and blog are available at


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