Coronavirus can remain in air up to 3 hours, on surfaces for days, study finds

The new coronavirus can remain infectious in the air for up to three hours and last on some surfaces for more than a day, according to a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Researchers compared the ability of the virus that causes COVID-19 to remain in the air and on surfaces with that of SARS, the most closely related human coronavirus, which killed 774 people worldwide in 2003. They studied the two viruses in five environmental conditions: aerosols (fine solid particles or liquid droplets suspended in air), plastic, stainless steel, copper and cardboard.

Researchers found that the new coronavirus remained "viable in aerosols" — infectious in air — for three hours, the duration of the experiment. The virus also persisted on plastic and stainless steel for up to three days and on cardboard for about 24 hours. The virus remained on copper for up to four hours.

The researchers found that the new coronavirus and SARS behaved very similarly in the five environmental conditions, "which unfortunately fails to explain why COVID-19 has become a much larger outbreak," a National Institutes of Health press release about the study reads.

The reason the COVID-19 pandemic has been much larger than the SARS outbreak could be that people with the new coronavirus may be "spreading virus without recognizing, or prior to recognizing, symptoms," NIH scientists said.

"This would make disease control measures that were effective against [SARS] less effective against its successor," the NIH stated.



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