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Beware Surface Spread of Coronavirus Over Two Weeks!

How long can SARS-CoV-2 survive on door knobs? Surface spread of coronavirus might last over two weeks. RNA from the virus was found after 17 days on a ship
Beware Surface Spread of Coronavirus Over Two Weeks!
A brunette woman puts on her left hand a blue medical disposable glove. Both hands in gloves. Girl wears a protective mask. A piercing glance at the camera. Remedies for viral infection.

We have been shocked to see most people opening doors, pumping gas and grabbing products off shelves with their bare hands. They have not heeded our warning to beware surface spread of coronavirus. Now, new data from the CDC suggests that the risk may be even greater than we imagined.

Old Data on Surface Spread of Coronavirus:

On March 19, 2020, we wrote an article titled “Can You Catch the Coronavirus From the Air or Surfaces?”  It was based on an article in The New England Journal of Medicine (March 17, 2020). The authors suggested that “SARS-CoV-2 [the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19] remained viable in aerosols” for at least 3 hours and on plastic or stainless steel for up to 3 days.

We cautioned:

“As a result of this research, it makes sense to us to disinfect surfaces with a virucidal solution. We also think that putting on disposable gloves is wise before going to the pharmacy or grocery store. Wearing a mask, like people in China do, also seems prudent.  After all, their successful struggle against the coronavirus suggests that they have done something right.”

New Data on Surface Spread of Coronavirus:

The CDC released a report about the viability of SARS-CoV-2 on March 23, 2020.  It was based on tests of surfaces on the Diamond Princess cruise ship while it was docked in Japan.

Here is the bottom line: Surfaces on the ship were found to have RNA from the coronavirus up to 17 days after everyone had left the ship.

Refreshing Your Memory:

Everything related to the coronavirus has been happening so fast it would not be surprising if you have forgotten the Diamond Princess. Between February 7-23, 2020, this cruise ship had “the largest cluster of COVID-19 cases outside mainland China.”

The Diamond Princess was docked in the port of Yokohama, Japan. Passengers were quarantined in their cabins on February 5. Those who were sick were tested and hospitalized. The others were quarantined for at least 14 days.

Of the 3,711 passengers and crew, 19.2% tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. Almost half had NO symptoms at the time they were tested. We find that observation especially disconcerting. It means that a lot of people who have the virus don’t know it. They may be spreading the virus to friends, family or casual contacts. In addition, they may be unknowingly contributing to surface spread of coronavirus.

The CDC in Its Own Words:

We always like to give you the straight and skinny on complex topics. That is why we so often publish the conclusions of researchers.

Here is the critical section of the CDC’s recent Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR):

“A high proportion of asymptomatic infections could partially explain the high attack rate among cruise ship passengers and crew. SARS-CoV-2 RNA was identified on a variety of surfaces in cabins of both symptomatic and asymptomatic infected passengers up to 17 days after cabins were vacated on the Diamond Princess but before disinfection procedures had been conducted (Takuya Yamagishi, National Institute of Infectious Diseases, personal communication, 2020). Although these data cannot be used to determine whether transmission occurred from contaminated surfaces, further study of fomite transmission of SARS-CoV-2 aboard cruise ships is warranted.”

What Does This Mean for You?

Just because traces of the coronavirus RNA were found on surfaces of the cruise ship 17 days after passengers disembarked does not mean that people could catch COVID-19 by touching a bureau or a door handle.

That said, we think these times deserve extra caution. We just do not know how easy or hard it is to contract the virus through surface spread of coronavirus.

The People’s Pharmacy Perspective:

What we are about to tell you will seem extreme. We care about your health. Even if this seems like an overreaction, please take it in the spirit it is intended…to protect you and those you care about!

Let’s pretend you are a surgeon about to perform a critical procedure. First you would wash your hands thoroughly. Next you would put on your surgical gloves. We find that the it’s easier to put on disposable gloves if your hands are completely dry.

Before you can enter the sterile operating room, however, you are called upon to do some errands. While wearing your clean gloves, you must get in your car, drive to the post office and mail a package. Then you have to stop at the grocery store and pick up some bread and milk. By this time, your clean gloves are no longer clean, and the door handle on your car might potentially be contaminated as well. What about the steering wheel?

Avoiding the Virus: 

If that doesn’t make sense to you, imagine you have just applied a thick coat of Vaseline on your hands. As a result, everything you touch will be greasy. Think about door knobs, elevator buttons, your cell phone or the mail that gets delivered to your mailbox. Everything you touched, including the envelope you retrieved from the box, would be “contaminated.”

Instead of petroleum jelly, think about microbes. Viruses are invisible, but they can lurk on surfaces like door knobs for days or weeks. To avoid surface spread of coronavirus, use disposable gloves when you are out in public and dispose of them before you re-enter your car or home. Above all, wash your hands when you go out, when you come in, and after touching anything that has come into your home from outside. 

If you are taking deliveries so you don’t have to go out shopping, be very careful how you unpack the cartons. Make sure to wipe all the contents down with disinfectant before washing your hands and putting things away.

A Bleach Formula for Disinfection:

Here’s the formula from the CDC:

5 tablespoons of bleach per gallon of water. For a smaller quantity, the ratio is 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of water. When you use such a solution, wear gloves to protect your skin and don’t allow it to spatter on your face or in your eyes.

If you would like to read our other articles about coronavirus, you will find them below. Here is our prior article on surface spread of coronavirus:

Can You Catch the Coronavirus From the Air or Surfaces?
There is disagreement about how you can catch the coronavirus. Some say you can’t catch COVID-19 from aerosols. The NEJM offers a different perspective.

If you would like to learn about treatments, here is our most thorough article:

The Inside Story of Chloroquine and Hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19
An old drug for malaria and rheumatoid arthritis could hold promise against the coronavirus. New data looks promising for hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19.

Here is our most recent article:

Hydroxychloroquine and COVID-19 | Reinfection Relief

Please share your thoughts in the comment section below, and take care not to add to surface spread of coronavirus.

More Information Coming:

Our next radio show on 3/28/2020 will be a live interview with infectious disease expert Dr. David Weber of UNC Healthcare. If you have a question about COVID-19 that you would like addressed, you can send us an email: Radio@PeoplesPharmacy.com

If you found this article of interest, feel free to share it with your family, friends, neighbors and coworkers. You’ll find icons for easy sharing through email, Facebook and Twitter at the top of the page.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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  • van Doremalen N et al, "Aerosol and surface stability of SARS-CoV-2 as compared with SARS-CoV-1." The New England Journal of Medicine, March 17, 2020. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMc2004973
  • Moriarty LF et al, "Public health responses to COVID-19 outbreaks on cruise ships — worldwide, February–March 2020." MMWR, March 23, 2020.
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