Understanding the behavior of the coronavirus has remained a core focus of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention since the COVID-19 outbreak began.
Until mid-May, the CDC and other experts believed that the transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-10, spread easily on contaminated surfaces like doorknobs and cash. However, the CDC recently adjusted its recommendations to suggest that the transmission of the virus through surfaces may be less of a threat than previously believed.
So is it safe to accept that cup of coffee from a Starbucks barista or pay in cash at the store? Here’s what you need to know.
How Does the Coronavirus Spread?
According to the CDC website, “The virus that causes COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly from person to person, mainly through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.” When these droplets land in the mouths or noses of nearby people, they can be inhaled into the lungs and cause infection.
The CDC still acknowledges that it’s possible for a person to contract COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching his own mouth, nose, or possible eyes. But the CDC clarifies, “this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads, but we are still learning more about how this virus spreads.”
How Long Does the Coronavirus Live on Surfaces?
Scientists still have a great deal to learn about the behavior and transmission of SARS-CoV-2. Though the CDC has emphasized that it “does not spread easily” from surface contact, it’s still important to uncover how long the virus can survive on common surfaces.
One study in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that the coronavirus can live on some surfaces for up to three days. “We found that viable virus could be detected in aerosols up to 3 hours post aerosolization, up to 4 hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to 2-3 days on plastic and stainless steel.”
In response to these findings, the CDC stated, “Although the virus can survive for a short period on some surfaces, it is unlikely to be spread from domestic or international mail, products, or packaging. However, it may be possible that people 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.”
What Does This Mean For Daily Life?
The CDC’s evolving guidelines and ongoing research have not changed the safety recommendations that Americans are encouraged to take each day.
As explained by Dr. John Whyte, chief medical officer for the healthcare website WebMD, “I think this new guideline helps people understand more about what does and doesn’t increase risk. It doesn’t mean we stop washing hands and disinfecting surfaces. But it does allow us to be practical and realistic as we try to return to a sense of normalcy.”