How Long Does COVID-19 Stay in the Air and on Surfaces?

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

According to the CDC’s website: “It may be possible that a person 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.”

According to Dr. Ben Locwin, an expert on infectious disease epidemiology: “[A]mong the confirmed cases COVID-19 worldwide, none are being attributed to the patient making contact with a surface where the virus is persisting from and then self-inoculating themselves by touching their mouth, nose or eyes before washing or sanitizing their hands…”

recent scientific study published by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and multiple universities indicates COVID-19 can live on the following materials for varying amounts of time:

  • Airborne: 3 hours
  • Copper: 4 hours
  • Cardboard: 24 hours
  • Stainless steel: 72 hours (3 days; but greatly reduced after 48 hours)
  • Plastic: 72 hours (3 days)

But there are two key reasons why this study doesn’t exactly reflect real life, and that context is helpful to understand. 

  • First, in the study the virus was released into the air in the form of tiny aerosols. In real life, respiratory droplets that you cough or sneeze sink to the ground faster than the smaller aerosols used in the study.  Meaning in real life, the COVID-19 virus is unlikely to last in the air for up to 3 hours.
  • Second, the amount of the virus remaining on the surfaces tested in the study was incredibly small by the end of those time periods. That means that in real life, infection from touching stainless steel or plastic, for example, is unlikely by the end of 2 to 3 days.

Note: An analysis of 22 studies that looked at other human coronaviruses, but NOT COVID-19, speculated that COVID-19 could last on surfaces like metal, glass or plastic for up to 9 days. Since this analysis did not study COVID-19 specifically, this information is less relevant than the above NIAID and CDC study.

EPA List:  Disinfectants for Use Against the COVID-19 Virus.