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It’s Alive! How Long Can Coronavirus Thrive in Your Building?

The New Coronavirus Can Live On Surfaces For 2-3 Days

How long can the new coronavirus live on a surface, like say, a door handle, after someone infected touches it with dirty fingers?

A study out this week finds that the virus can survive on hard surfaces such as plastic and stainless steel for up to 72 hours and on cardboard for up to 24 hours.

“This virus has the capability for remaining viable for days,” says study author, James Lloyd-Smith, an assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Los Angeles, who researches how pathogens emerge.

Although the World Health Organization had previously estimated the survival time on surfaces to be a “few hours to a few days” based on research on other coronaviruses, this is the first study by scientists at a federal laboratory to test the actual virus causing the current pandemic, SARS-CoV-2.


Viruses, Survivability and Surfaces

It’s useful to know how long it can stay alive of course, because the virus can contaminate surfaces when an infected person sneezes or coughs. Virus-laden respiratory droplets can land on doorknobs, elevator buttons, handrails or countertops — and spread the virus to anyone who then touches these surfaces.

Lloyd-Smith says these findings establish a good ballpark estimate for the survivability of the virus on these surfaces. “In a laboratory experiment, the conditions are pretty carefully controlled and constant,” he says. By comparison, “in the real world, conditions fluctuate” — conditions like temperature, humidity and light. So the survivability may vary, too.

“Ultraviolet light can be a really powerful disinfectant and we get a lot of UVA light from the sun,” says Daniel Kuritzkes an infectious disease expert at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.” Direct sunlight can help rapidly diminish infectivity of viruses on surfaces,” he says. He was not involved in the new research.


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