On Wednesday, scientists employed by federal health agencies working with researchers at Princeton and UCLA found that the coronavirus can live in the air for up to three hours, and on surfaces for up to three days. However, the researchers assert that the study does not prove anyone has yet been infected from touching contaminated surfaces or breathing coronavirus particles in the air.
In the study, published Wednesday, the team put COVID-19 into the air with a nebulizer, re-creating what would happen if a patient coughed. The findings, which have not yet been peer-reviewed, showed that the virus remained viable for up to three hours in the air, for four hours on copper surfaces, up to 24 hours on cardboard, and from two to three days on plastic and stainless steel.
The researchers also noted that the viability of the novel coronavirus was similar to that of tests done during the outbreak of SARS in 2003 — suggesting that the ability for the virus to live outside a host does not account for the intensity of the 2020 pandemic. They suggest that the difference in the size of the outbreaks could be contributed to evidence suggesting COVID-19 patients “shed and transmit the virus while pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic.” The study states that other factors “likely to play a role include the infectious dose required to establish an infection, the stability of virus in mucus, and environmental factors such as temperature and relative humidity.”
If verified, the study’s findings would help explain the growing number of “community spread” patients — those who did not have known contact with an infected person. It also suggests the impossibility of containment in the United States this late in the outbreak, as the Trump administration continues to bungle COVID-19 testing. As of Sunday, the U.S. had conducted five tests for every 1 million people, while the United Kingdom and the Netherlands had done around 350. South Korea, which has experienced 60 coronavirus deaths to the United States’ 31, has conducted some 3,692 tests per million people.