With people across the country working to flatten the curve of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, many have been left to wonder whether or not they can catch the novel coronavirus from the mail. Although the virus can linger on surfaces for several hours, with some reports suggesting it can live up to three days on plastic and stainless steel, both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) state that there is currently no data to suggest handling mail is a hazard.
"The likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low and the risk of catching the virus that causes COVID-19 from a package that has been moved, travelled, and exposed to different conditions and temperature is also low," WHO writes on its coronavirus Q&A page.
The CDC echoed a similar sentiment on their COVID-19 FAQ page, explaining that, "in general, because of poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely very low risk of spread from food products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient, refrigerated, or frozen temperatures."
A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the new coronavirus could be detected for up to 24 hours on cardboard, though researchers did not study how long the virus could remain active on paper.
While the United States Postal Service (USPS) is continuing to deliver mail as usual, it is taking a number of precautions to prevent potential spread. In a statement released Monday, USPS said that it continues "to follow the strategies and measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and public health departments."
Along with staying up to date with the latest information via videos, e-mail, internal newsletters, and other means, employees are being encouraged to maintain healthy behaviors, such as frequent hand washing, the use of sanitizers, and more frequent cleaning of work spaces. Those who feel sick are also being encouraged to remain home.
Several changes have also been enacted on the mail route front, with the customer signature procedure being modified to allow both employees and customers to remain a safe distance apart.
According to Today, spokesman Dave Partenheimer confirmed that 13 of the more than 630,000 USPS employees have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Thursday. Nationally, confirmed cases have surpassed 86,000, with more than 1,300 fatalities.