New research finds that coronavirus can live on smooth surfaces like phone screens for up to 28 days.
In a new study, researchers from Australia’s national science agency found that the virus can remain active for much longer than other viruses under “controlled temperature and humidity conditions.”
Cotton and other porous materials can harbor COVID-19 for around 14 days, but smooth surfaces like smartphones, paper money, and brushed stainless steel can carry the virus for up to 28 days under the right conditions.
The team noted that the flu virus is only known to remain active for 17 days under the same conditions, suggesting that COVID-19 is far more robust than other viruses.
“These findings demonstrate SARS-CoV-2 can remain infectious for significantly longer time periods than generally considered possible,” the study authors said.
Developing strategies to lower risk of infection
The results of the study reinforce the need to regularly clean surfaces and wash hands. However, the experiment also involved conditions that aren’t always found in real life settings.
For the study, the researchers subjected smartphone screens and other surfaces to constant 68 degree F temperatures. The surfaces were kept in the dark to prevent UV light from having an impact. Additionally, fresh mucous -- which contains white cells and antibodies -- wasn’t used in the study.
“In my opinion infectious viruses will only persist for hours in mucus on surfaces rather than days,” Cardiff University professor Ron Eccles told the BBC.
Nonetheless, the researchers said it’s important to determine how long the virus remains viable on a range of surfaces in order to develop “risk mitigation strategies in high contact areas.”
“While the precise role of surface transmission, the degree of surface contact and the amount of virus required for infection is yet to be determined, establishing how long this virus remains viable on surfaces is critical for developing risk mitigation strategies in high contact areas,” said lead researcher Dr. Debbie Eagles, deputy director of Director of Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently says that COVID-19 is mainly spread through respiratory transmission, such as coughing or sneezing. The agency recently updated its guidelines to state that the virus can also spread in enclosed spaces where “activities that caused heavier breathing, like singing or exercise” are taking place.
“Spread from touching surfaces is not thought to be a common way that COVID-19 spreads,” the CDC says.