Coronavirus Study Shows Virus Can Live on Surfaces Far Longer Than Previously Reported, Raising Concerns

A new study from Australia found that COVID-19 can survive for nearly a month on inanimate surfaces like cell phone screens and cash. The study comes from CSIRO, Australia's national science agency, and it has renewed precautions around the coronavirus pandemic among many. The scientists also reported that the virus survived for longer in colder temperatures, spelling bad news for winter.

CSIRO's Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness (ACDP) undertook this research in Geelong, Victoria, and published the results in Virology Journal. It found that COVID-19 has a much longer life on surfaces than previously believed, especially on smooth surfaces like glass or stainless steel. Scientists observed the virus still present and posing a threat even after 28 days on a smooth surface. While the biggest threat of infection still comes from contact with other people, this data alarmed many people who have been growing bold after months in isolation.

The ACDP study found that temperature has a lot to do with the survival time of the virus, so contact with smooth surfaces that are often cold is a bad idea. As the CSIRO graphic above shows, the virus survived much longer at 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius) than at 106 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius). At 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius) it survived the longest, potentially outliving the study itself.

CSIRO notes that the risk from these conditions was considerably lower than the risk from contact with other people. This study was performed in laboratory conditions, and even then only "a sing well of the virus was recovered on days 14 and 21, 99 percent of the virus was not infectious by day 7." The study was also performed in the dark, as UV light can rapidly inactivate the virus, so outdoor surfaces are much safer.

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For some, this study may be a helpful reminder to wear gloves in public and wash their hands frequently, in addition to wearing a mask and social distancing. For public spaces and event organizers, it may also illustrate ways to mitigate the risk even further with frequent cleanings.

Either way, this study goes to show that COVID-19 is not like other viruses, and is still a major risk to public health. Experts maintain that social distancing and self-isolation are the best means of preventing the spread of the coronavirus, and will be necessary until a vaccine is prepared, manufactured and distributed. For the latest updates on the pandemic, visit the websites of the CDC and the World Health Organization.