Story at a glance

  • New research shows the coronavirus can live in droplets produced when someone sneezes or coughs for up to three hours.
  • The virus can live for up to three days on some surfaces, like plastic and steel.
  • The virus’ ability to infect someone, however, drops sharply over time.

New research suggests the highly contagious virus that causes COVID-19 can stay viable in the air for hours and live on some surfaces for days. 

A new study by researchers from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Princeton University and UCLA published in The New England Journal of Medicine suggests the coronavirus is still viable in aerosols, when the virus becomes suspended in droplets when someone coughs or sneezes, for up to three hours. 

On surfaces such as plastic and stainless steel, the virus survived for up to two to three days. On cardboard the virus was viable up to 24 hours and just up to four hours on copper. The research provides key information about the stability of SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, and suggests people could become infected through the air and after touching contaminated objects. 

Scientists used a device to mimic the virus being deposited from an infected person on everyday surfaces in a household or hospital settings, such as through coughing, sneezing or touching objects, and investigated how long the virus stayed infectious on surfaces.

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Researchers note that as the virus can remain infectious in the air and on surfaces for hours and sometimes days, its ability to infect people drops sharply over time. 

The study comes as the World Health Organization (WHO) debates implementing new “airborne precautions” for medical staff treating coronavirus patients. 

In the U.S., more than 6,500 coronavirus cases have been confirmed with at least 115 deaths. More than 204,000 cases are confirmed worldwide with more than 8,200 deaths since the outbreak began in December.


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Published on Mar 18, 2020