This article was originally published on December 24, 2020. It was updated on April 7, 2021, to reflect new information about this evolving situation.
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If your pandemic routine has involved copious amounts of takeout and Amazon deliveries to your doorstep, you may have at some point wondered — Could my stuff have the coronavirus on it?
Experts believe the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is spread primarily from one person to another through droplets when someone who’s infected talks, coughs or sneezes in close proximity to someone else. Hence, why social distancing is so important.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledges it’s also possible that someone could get the virus from touching something that’s been contaminated and then touching their own mouth, nose or eyes. But the risk of this is low, especially if you’re vigilant with hand hygiene.
So, wearing a mask and keeping a safe physical distance from others are no-brainers when it comes to preventing the virus from spreading. But how cautious should you still be about touching and cleaning objects and surfaces, especially in your own home? Here’s what we know so far.
Can COVID-19 be spread through surfaces?
Studies have shown that the coronavirus can remain on surfaces for hours or days, depending on the surface. “But does that really translate into people getting sick? That’s the real question, and I think the answer is no,” explains infectious disease specialist Kristin Englund, MD.
“There’s been very little documented evidence of people getting COVID-19 from surfaces.”
So, while you don’t need to obsessively wipe down everything you touch or bring into your home, it’s still a good idea to clean high-touch surfaces regularly. If no one with COVID-19 has been in your home or space, the CDC says that washing surfaces with water and soap (or detergent) once a day should be sufficient to remove any virus that’s on surfaces.
If someone in your household is sick, the CDC suggests additional cleaning and disinfecting may be necessary, especially those high-touch surfaces including doorknobs, handles, countertops and light switches.
That additional cleaning and disinfecting is also recommended if:
- There’s a high rate of COVID-19 cases in your community.
- You’re around a low number of people wearing masks.
- Members of your household are practicing poor hand hygiene.
- If some in a high-risk COVID-19 infection group lives in your household.
Washing or sanitizing your hands often can also help eliminate most germs you might pick up from touching a contaminated surface.
What about that package that just arrived on my doorstep? Is it safe?
Shopping online is safer than shopping in-person, Dr. Englund says, because it eliminates the close person-to-person contact that’s most often responsible for the spread of COVID-19.
While the previously mentioned study found that the coronavirus can live for up to 24 hours on cardboard boxes, the CDC asserts that it’s pretty unlikely that the virus spreads from packaging that’s shipped over a period of days in the mail.
Dr. Englund agrees. “I think we can all feel safe about touching packages that are coming in through the mail,” she says. “But, if you’re concerned, the easiest thing to do is open up the cardboard box, wash your hands, take out the contents, dispose of the box and wash your hands again.”
Could a visitor bring the virus into my home?
Yes. In fact, experts say that person-to-person transmission is the main way the virus spreads. “Anytime someone comes into your home, there’s a risk that they could be bringing the virus – without meaning to – with them,” Dr. Englund explains.
If someone gets infected with the virus, it can take several days for them to feel sick and realize they’re infected – or they might never even feel sick at all. Yet they could still be contagious for a period of time and unknowingly spread the virus to others they come in close contact with.
This is why it’s so important to limit in-person gatherings with people outside of your household, or, if you do choose to have a few people over or go to someone else’s house, to follow guidelines for doing it safely.
Dr. Englund recommends setting rules and expectations ahead of time. Decide how many people will be at the gathering (no last-minute plus-ones) and make sure everyone agrees to wear a mask. Set up the space so that people keep a safe physical distance from others and aren’t congregating around a food table or sharing utensils.
Is my food safe?
According to the CDC, it’s not likely that the virus is being spread via food or food packaging. But, to be safe, it’s recommended that you not share food or eating utensils with someone outside of your household.
Is it on my skin?
Germs can live on different parts of your body, but the main concern here is your hands. Your hands are what’s most likely to come in contact with germy surfaces and then touch your face, which is a potential path of transmission for many viruses and bacteria.
So, while no one is suggesting that anyone take a hiatus from showers, you don’t need to scrub down your whole body multiple times a day like you should your hands.