How Long Does Coronavirus Last?

Millions of positive cases and countless thousands of dollars poured into scientific research, thus far, the world has just begun to slowly understand the Novel Coronavirus (Sars-CoV-2 Virus or COVID-19) virus and the diseases it causes. In fact, what started as a respiratory illness has now recently been discovered to affect not only the lungs but other vital organs such as the heart and kidney. 

Studies continue to be conducted in order to get more data for the purpose of fully understanding how COVID-19 affects the human body. One of the things that virologists and medical experts have kept a close eye on is data regarding how long the Coronavirus lasts when an individual is infected or when it touches any surface. 

In this article, we will cover the following:

How Long Does Coronavirus Last On Surfaces?

According to the Center for Disease Control or CDC, there is a possibility that you can catch the virus by touching the surfaces of materials that have the virus on them; especially if afterwards, you inadvertently transfer these to your eyes, nose, or mouth. 

The Coronavirus droplets that land on surfaces such as tabletops and doorknobs can stay viable for hours or days depending on the material the surface is made of, as well as other environmental factors.

Below are the different kind of surfaces and how long the Coronavirus lasts and observed to remain a health risk:

Material Approximate Duration
Copper such as coins, cookware and tea kettles
4 hours
Aluminum such as tin foil for baking or wrapping and soda tin cans
2 to 8 hours
Cardboard such as boxes for shipping
24 hours
Plastics such as containers, bottles, seats in the subways and buses, and elevator buttons
2 to 3 days
Stainless steel such as some bottle containers, kitchen sinks, pans, pots, and some kitchen appliances
2 to 3 days
Wood such as decking and furniture
4 days
Metal such as silverware, jewelry, and most doorknobs
5 days
Glass such as windows, mirrors, and drinking glasses
5 days
Paper such as in mail and newspapers - the length of time varies depending on the strain of the virus.
Some strains last for only a few minutes. Other strains can live up to 5 days.
Food and water
No evidence that COVID-19 is food-borne
Fabric and clothing
There is little research on Coronavirus and studies estimate that the duration should be lower than in harder surfaces.
Soles of shoes
There is no viable evidence that Coronavirus droplets found on the soles of shoes can cause infection.
Human skin & hair
The exact time of how long the Coronavirus lasts on human skin & hair is unknown. However, there is evidence that shows the virus lasts long enough on human skin to trigger transmission.

With that data above, however, the CDC advises that COVID-19 transmission from surfaces to humans has not been fully documented. This is understandable, however. Even the regular Joe or Jane can see that it’s difficult to trace back how and which surfaces you touched if you do contract COVID-19. 

But, since there is enough evidence to show that droplets can last for certain periods of time on different kinds of surfaces, the best defense against this is to follow health protocols enacted by your state laws. These may be different for each locality, but people are generally advised to:

Aside from the above protocols, all households and business establishments also need to ensure that they are cleaning and disinfecting properly to reduce the risk of Coronavirus transmission.

Let’s look at the next section to see effective cleaning and disinfecting tips.

How To Properly Clean & Disinfect Surfaces

Numerous recent studies have shown that the Novel Coronavirus is primarily made up of oily “lipids” or fat. Similar to washing off butter from a frying pan with sudsy soap, the Coronavirus can be effectively eliminated from either human skin or any surface through “breaking it down” using the following removal methods:

Let’s take a look at the differences between cleaning and disinfecting.

Per the CDC, cleaning is simply the removal of dust, dirt, grime, and any other impurities that are found on hard surfaces. Simple cleaning methods do not necessarily kill bacteria or viruses but it does reduce them significantly.

After cleaning, you must follow through with proper disinfection. The CDC then defines disinfection as using chemicals to effectively kill germs, bacteria, and viruses. There are several chemical or alcohol-based household disinfectants that you can buy at your local store. For business establishments that may still have workers and customers coming in from time to time, they should consider using EPA-registered disinfectants.

In addition, establishments such as hospitals, schools, churches, grocery stores, shopping centers, community centers, medical facilities, and restaurants/dining establishments should also consider contracting the services of professional cleaners for deep cleaning and disinfection as an added, “protective” layer in the effort of effectively reducing the risk of being infected with COVID-19.

That said, both households and business establishments can practice these cleaning and disinfecting tips:

Learning how to properly clean, disinfect, and how long the Coronavirus lasts on surfaces is only the tip of the iceberg. In the next section, we’ll go in greater detail and learn more about how this deadly virus actually spreads.

What We Know About COVID-19 Transmission

Since it’s the official announcement as a global pandemic in the early months of 2020, studies show for certain that an individual can get infected with COVID-19 through the person-to-person spread of the Coronavirus via respiratory droplets. 

This means that if you are positive with the virus, and you sneeze or cough without properly covering your mouth and washing/disinfecting your hands afterward, anyone that is fairly close to you (within 6 feet) and comes in contact with your “droplets” can also easily catch COVID-19. In fact, studies show that one infected person has the likelihood of infecting hundreds within a span of 30 – 40 days.

Because of how fast the Coronavirus spreads from one infected person to another, the World Health Organization or WHO then advised containment measures and hygiene precautions similar to that of the SARS outbreak in Taiwan in 2004:

But, while COVID-19 has similar characteristics with that of SARS and we are all essentially following the same precautionary measures, the similarities of these deadly viruses are few and far between. Chief amongst its differences is that there seemed to be little to none asymptomatic cases reported for SARS and the Spanish Flu while large percentages of COVID-19 infected individuals from varied parts of the world reported that they had no idea they were carrying the virus until they went in for testing. The challenge here is obvious: if you don’t know that you have it, how can you possibly work hard to contain it?

To date, virologists still are not certain if the world can claim the same victory as it did during the SARS epidemic. To put simply, while both viruses seem to have the same origins, they are as different as night and day. The world is still battling to understand how we can beat COVID-19

In any case, aside from person-to-person and surface-to-person transmission, there are other ways that COVID-19 can spread. We’ll take a look at these in the next section.

Is the Coronavirus “Airborne”?

Originally, the WHO posted a scientific brief on March 27, 2020, which advised that there is no evidence to suggest that the Coronavirus is an airborne disease and can travel distances of more than 6 feet.

However, independent studies from experts in airborne respiratory illnesses and aerosols found that the tiny particles (much smaller than respiratory droplets) of exhaled air from infected patients, also called aerosols, can remain in the air of enclosed spaces for a period of time. This can accumulate over time causing COVID-19 infection in anyone who breathes the infected air. 

As the scientific community sounded out this warning, the WHO could no longer ignore it. They recently changed their stance in COVID-19’s airborne transmission, stating that: 

“Airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2 can occur  during medical procedures that generate aerosols (“aerosol generating procedures”).(12) WHO, together with the scientific community, has been actively discussing and evaluating whether SARS-CoV-2 may also spread through aerosols in the absence of aerosol generating procedures, particularly in indoor settings with poor ventilation.”

Can the Coronavirus Spread from Animals to People?

While initial contact tracing of the first few cases of COVID-19 may have possibly linked its origins from that of a bat, there is no solid evidence to confirm this. The CDC, however, is certain that the Novel Coronavirus came from an animal – but whether it’s a bat or another species entirely, we still do not know.

There are some reported cases, however, of people spreading the virus to animals. From household pets to minks in the Netherlands, scientists have diagnosed COVID-19 in animals.

So, how likely is it that an animal can transmit COVID-19 to a human being? There is still not enough evidence to point out that “yes, definitely, we can get COVID-19 from our pets”. But, as the world continues to study and learn more about COVID-19, who knows what we’ll know a few months from now.

In any case, pet owners should always remain vigilant of the volatile and mostly unknown nature of the Novel Coronavirus. It’s only commonsensical to keep our pets socially-distanced from other people and pets, as well. And while zoos and other animal facilities remain closed to the public, if we do find ourselves within the vicinity of any kind of wildlife, it’s best to keep away from them, wear masks, and practice hand-hygiene at all times.

How Long Does Coronavirus Last In Humans?

Exposure & Incubation Period

According to the CDC, it will take 2-14 days after exposure to the virus for symptoms to appear. This is referred to as the “incubation period”. A more recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine by a group of US immunologists found that on average, symptoms will appear just over 5 days after the exposure. This claim was made after they analyzed more than 180 cases of COVID-19. 

In the same study, the researchers found that for those who get the virus, 97% develop symptoms within 11 days from the time they are infected. 

However, not all who get infected with Coronavirus will exhibit symptoms of the disease. According to the WHO, 80% of those who are infected will have mild or asymptomatic infections. 

Those who develop symptoms may experience:

It’s also been found that other people who get infected will experience headaches, sore throat, runny or congested nose, vomiting or nausea, and diarrhea.

Recovery Period

When an individual contracts COVID-19, recovering from the virus is dependent on the severity of the case:

It is important to remember that according to the CDC, people with compromised health such as older adults and people with underlying medical conditions may develop serious complications if infected with COVID-19 and may require longer care than others.

Post-Recovery: When Can I Visit Family & Friends?

As with other diseases, there are circumstances when the virus stays in the system longer than most cases. This is known as viral persistence. With regards to the Coronavirus, scientists are still finding out why this happens to some patients, how patients vary from one another, and exactly how long will the virus infect the human body. 

For example, researchers have documented a case in China where the woman developed a mild case of Covid-19. She exhibited symptoms which lasted only 2-3 weeks. However, she remained positive for the virus for 2 months. 

With the possibility of having an extended viral persistence, the CDC recommends that for people who are infected with COVID-19, ensure that it is at least 10 days from when the symptoms began to appear, that the symptoms are improving, with at least 3 days of having no fever before going out in public.

Healthcare professionals, however, who have direct contact with COVID-19 cases must adhere to criteria set about by the CDC before returning to work or venturing out into the public. You can find more information here.

Conclusion

There is still so much to learn about the virus that causes COVID-19. Also, scientists are still in the process of developing an effective vaccine. Given the circumstances, the best course of action is to be cautious at all times, especially when out in public. By practicing physical distancing, regular handwashing, and wearing a mask, one lowers the risk of exposure to and spreading the virus.

Knowing vital details such as how long the Coronavirus lasts and what to expect is the key to preparing one’s self. Sometimes, too much influx of information isn’t healthy but, In the case of Covid-19, gathering as much information surrounding the disease can help one cope better with the pandemic, specifically in order to avoid exposure to the virus.

Information Disclaimer

As of press time, all the information found in this article is considered to be true and accurate. However, as updates surrounding COVID-19 are continuously changing, there are some details that have changed since this article was posted. We strongly recommend everyone to stay up-to-date with the latest information by following relevant, credible such as the CDC and the WHO.

A Quick Guide for Selection and Use of Approved Covid-19/Coronavirus Disinfectants

As we discussed previously, routine or periodic cleaning and disinfection are an important part of an overall workplace Coronavirus safety program, along with hand washing, social distancing and source control measures such as mask use. Additional cleaning and disinfection can be considered in work areas if one or more workers contract Coronavirus.

According to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/reopen-guidance.html, the first step to disinfect a surface is cleaning with soap and water to remove dirt and dust and reduce the amount of virus on the surface followed by application of application of approved disinfectant.

No matter how they are applied, Covid disinfection requires use of approved disinfectants, including 0.1% sodium hypochlorite (bleach) or 70% alcohol (Ethanol or Isopropyl Alcohol)

To prepare a 0.1% bleach solution, mix:

Make sure to check the expiration date on your bleach container. Also, the bleach solution degrades over time so ACTenviro recommends making new solution every 24 hours as needed. Finally, pay attention to safety. Bleach is corrosive so wear appropriate PPE, including gloves, eye/face protection, mix outsider or in areas that have good ventilation, have spill supplies available and never mix bleach with ammonia or anything other than water!

For surfaces or locations where bleach is not suitable, 70% alcohol (ethanol or isopropyl alcohol) may be used, although these flammable liquids have their own set of safety issues.

The EPA also maintains a list of disinfectants that are anticipated to be effective against Covid/Coronavirus – EPA List N – Approved for “Emerging Viral Pathogens”

Specific products are shown on List N, however other products with the same active ingredient (based on the product’s EPA registration number) can also be used.

Keep in mind though that Manufacturer’s instructions must be followed and use of any of these materials should be reviewed to determine if additional PPE (including respiratory protection) is required.

Still have questions? See our previous post that looked at cleaning and disinfection requirements or stay tuned for our next post where we will talk about at validation and how to make sure that your cleaning and decontamination process is effective.

Coronavirus Cleaning and Disinfection – What to do and how to do it!

Coronavirus is spread from person to person by respiratory droplets caused by coughing, sneezing or talking, and the biggest risk factor for acquiring the illness is spending time near people who have the illness (whether they know they are infected or not).  These droplets may also settle on nearby surfaces.  There is currently some debate on how long these droplets may remain airborne (https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2020-07-04/coronavirus-airborne-spread); however, it is clear that while they do not travel far and they only remain viable for a limited amount of time, it is still possible for workers to be exposed to Coronavirus from contact with contaminated surfaces.  With this in mind, routine or periodic cleaning and disinfection are an important part of an overall workplace Coronavirus safety program, along with hand washing, social distancing and source control measures such as mask use.   Additional cleaning and disinfection can be considered in work areas if one or more workers contract Coronavirus.

According to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/reopen-guidance.html, the first step to disinfect a surface is cleaning with soap and water to remove dirt and dust and to reduce the amount of virus on the surface.  This should be followed by application of an approved disinfectant by wiping, spraying or fogging, consistent with manufacturer instructions.  Carpets or fabric that cannot be cleaned with soap and water can be HEPA-vacuumed, laundered or similar. The approach can be tailored to each workplace; however, to be effective, disinfection practices should be consistent with CDC guidelines.  Vendors marketing disinfection without cleaning may not be complying with CDC guidelines

Additionally, ACTenviro is happy to provide professional assistance to any infectious disease questions or concerns. Whether it is proactive or reactive, our team of highly qualified technicians are fully equipped for infectious disease facility decontaminations.

Cleaning should address areas and surfaces that are potentially contaminated.  Droplets typically travel 6 feet or less before settling on nearby surfaces, which limits areas that need to be addressed.

  • Typical surfaces include high-traffic areas such as floors, counters, tables, furniture, doors, items on open desks and walls (up to approximately 6 feet).
  • Other areas to address include high-touch surfaces such light switches, doorknobs or faucets.

Elevated or inaccessible areas are not likely to be contaminated and should not be cleaned.

  • For this reason, gas “bombs”, fumigation and similar approaches are not needed, and may not comply with CDC guidelines which require cleaning prior to application of disinfectant.
  • Similarly, because the particles do not travel far and are only viable for a limited amount of time, cleaning and disinfection of ducts, filters and other HVAC equipment is generally not necessary.

Other areas that may require cleaning but not disinfection include objects that are not frequently touched, outdoor areas, and areas that have not been occupied for seven days or more.

Once clean, an approved disinfectant should be applied to surfaces by wiping, spraying or fogging, consistent with manufacturer instructions.  Workers should use appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves and eye protection, and it is important that cleaners and disinfectants be prepared and used as indicated by manufacturers.  Once disinfectants are applied to a surface, they should be left on the surface for the designated “contact time” or allowed to dry on the surface.

Once complete, the area is cleaned and disinfected and ready to be re-occupied!

Stay tuned for our next post where we will talk about EPA List N, approved disinfectants and how to find out if the product that you are using appropriate for covid-19 decontamination.

We will follow that up with a final post in this 3-part series that looks at validation and how to make sure that your cleaning and decontamination process is effective.

Use of “Face Coverings” and Compliance with OSHA Respiratory Protection Standard

As federal, state and local governments advocate (and in some cases require) the use of cloth “face coverings” as a Covid source control measure, many businesses have questions about the regulatory compliance implications and whether use of face coverings is subject to the same requirements as use of respirators at work.

The OSHA respiratory protection standard (29 CFR 1910.134) establishes employer requirements when employees use respirators at work.  Regulatory requirements are identical under the Cal/OSHA respiratory protection standard (8 CCR 5144).  For OSHA, and Cal/OSHA, the term “respirator” refers to personal protective equipment (PPE) intended to protect the worker from inhalation exposures to hazardous materials (gas, vapor or particulate).  In all cases, respirators must be certified for their intended use by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

Since face coverings are not respirators, use of face coverings at work is not subject to the requirements of the OSHA respirator standard, even if use of face coverings is required by the employer.

It is possible for workers to use disposable N-95 “filtering facepiece” respirators (or other “real” respirators) as a “face covering”.  In this case, the N-95 (or other respirator) is still being worn for source control purposes, not personal protection.

  • This assumes the wearer is allowed by their employer to wear other face coverings and is choosing to wear the N-95 (or other respirator).
  • If this use of a respirator is permitted (but not required) by an employer, then the employer would be subject to the OSHA requirements for “voluntary use” of respirators.
  • Voluntary use of filtering facepiece respirators (like N-95s) does not require a written respirator program, training, medical surveillance or fit testing, but employers do need to provide respirator wearers with the information in Appendix D of the respirator standard (https://www.osha.gov/laws-regs/regulations/standardnumber/1910/1910.134AppD)
  • In addition to the appendix D information, if employers allow voluntary use of tight-fitting respirators (such as ½-face or full-face air purifying respirators), they must also provide medical evaluation to the wearer (but no written program or fit testing), so many employers choose not to allow voluntary use of tight-fitting respirators.

Where N-95s (or other respirators) are used on a voluntary basis as a source control measure, and the respirators do not need to maintain any certification or qualifications, the respirators can be cleaned and/or re-used as appropriate, based on hygiene, physical condition and similar considerations.

If employers require employees to use N-95 respirators (or any other respirator) for covid-control (or for any other purpose), then the voluntary use provisions no longer apply and the employer is subject to the applicable requirements of the respiratory protection standard, including written program, training, medical surveillance, fit testing, etc.

  • One covid-related example would be work activities in medical facilities, where workers are in close proximity to Covid patients and where workers are using respirators for their own health protection.

Do you have any questions about respiratory protection and Covid?  Or about respirator use in general?  Or any other workplace safety or environmental compliance issues?

Contact [email protected]

James Kapin, MPH, CIH, CSP
Director of EM Services,
ACTenviro

New OSHA (and Cal/OSHA) Guidance on use (and re-use) of N-95 “Filtering Facepiece Respirators”

N-95 dust masks are considered “filtering facepiece respirators” (FFRs) by OSHA and use of FFRs at work (as well other types of respirators) is regulated by the OSHA respiratory protection standard (29 CFR 1910.134).  This standard, along with associated enforcement guidance and interpretations, limits the service life and re-use of FFRs and requires that all FFRs used for worker protection have current NIOSH certification.  Recent guidance from OSHA (https://www.osha.gov/memos/2020-04-03/enforcement-guidance-respiratory-protection-and-n95-shortage-due-coronavirus) temporarily relaxes some of those requirements as healthcare providers and others struggle with limited supplies.  This is in addition to emergency actions from the FDA to increase access to respirators (https://www.fda.gov/media/136403/download), including allowing use of some respirators certified outside the U.S. and authorizing use certain industrial respirators to be used in healthcare settings.

Remember – members of the general public are encouraged (and in some cases required) to wear face coverings when in public.  These face coverings are intended to prevent the wearer from inadvertently spreading contamination, they are not intended as personal protective equipment.  In order to preserve as many respirators as possible for healthcare providers and others who need them, FFRs should not be used as face coverings.  If respiratory protection needed for worker protection (not social distancing) outside of healthcare, employers should use non-disposable respirators wherever possible, consistent with applicable OSHA standards.

Fed OSHA Guidance on Extended Use and Re-Use

The recent OSHA guidance suggests that employers maximize use of engineering and administrative controls as well as re-usable types of respirators.  If these are not sufficient, OSHA will allow extended use and/or re-use of an FFR by the same worker if the respirator is physically intact, structurally sound and not excessively soiled or contaminated.

  • Employers should develop procedures for storage and for donning/doffing potentially contaminated FFRs if they are being re-used
  • Workers should be instructed that if seal checks cannot be performed successfully, the respirator should no longer be used
  • Employers who need to extend use or re-use should update their written respiratory protection plan (RPP) as needed to address these issues and to describe circumstances under which a disposable respirator will be considered contaminated and not available for extended use or reuse

If other options are not available, the OSHA guidance also allows use of certain respirators that have passed the manufacturer shelf life, as long as they pass a visual inspection and as long as they are not used for certain high-risk surgical procedures (see list of respirators at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/release-stockpiled-N95.html).

Cal/OSHA Guidance on Extended Use and Re-Use

The situation is similar in California.  The Cal/OSHA respiratory protection standard (8 CCR 5144) is similar to the fed OSHA standard (including restrictions on extended use and re-use of disposable respirators), however healthcare facilities in California also have to comply with the provisions of the aerosol transmissible disease (ATD) standard (8 CCR 5199).  Recent Cal/OSHA guidance (https://www.dir.ca.gov/dosh/coronavirus/Cal-OSHA-Guidance-for-respirator-shortages.pdf) allows similar flexibility for extended use or re-use of FFRs in order to conserve respirator supplies, as long as the details are captured in an updated RPP.  In addition, for healthcare facilities regulated under the ATD standard, Cal/OSHA allows surgical masks to be used instead of respirators under limited circumstances and for lower hazard medical tasks if FFRs or other types of respiratory protection are not available.

Do you have any questions about respiratory protection and Covid?  Or about respirator use in general?  Or any other workplace safety or environmental compliance issues?

Contact [email protected]

James Kapin, MPH, CIH, CSP
Director of EM Services,
ACTenviro