CDC Says Coronavirus Does Not Spread Easily on Surfaces – The New York Times

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CDC Says Coronavirus Does Not Spread Easily on Surfaces – The New York Times

If you’re worried about wiping down grocery bags or disinfecting mailed packages, this C.D.C. guidance might bring some relief. It’s not new information; the agency has been saying this for months.

Credit…J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press

Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention making the rounds this week on the internet are clarifying what we know about the transmission of the coronavirus.

The virus does not spread easily via contaminated surfaces, according to the C.D.C. For those who were worried about wiping down grocery bags or disinfecting mailed packages, the news headlines highlighting this guidance in recent days might have brought some relief.

But this information is not new: The C.D.C. has been using similar language for months. If anything, the headlines have pulled into sharper focus what we already know about the virus.

The coronavirus is thought to spread mainly from one person to another, typically through droplets when an infected person sneezes, coughs or talks at close range — even if that person is not showing symptoms.

“The virus that causes Covid-19 is spreading very easily and sustainably between people,” the C.D.C. says on its website. “Information from the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic suggest that this virus is spreading more efficiently than influenza, but not as efficiently as measles, which is highly contagious.”

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Credit…Ben Powell/Odessa American, via Associated Press

The website also says that people can become infected by “touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes.” But those are “not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”

The format of the C.D.C. website was slightly altered this month, but the language about surfaces remained the same. It appears to have been placed under a new subheading — “The virus does not spread easily in other ways” — on May 11, and more information about the difficulty of catching the virus from animals was added.

Kristen Nordlund, a spokeswoman for the agency, told The Washington Post that the revisions followed an internal review and were the product of “usability testing.”

“Our transmission language has not changed,” Ms. Nordlund said. “Covid-19 spreads mainly through close contact from person to person.”

Experts at the C.D.C. and elsewhere are still learning about the new coronavirus.

There are questions about how the density of virus particles could affect transmission rates. Researchers don’t yet know whether all speech, cough and sneeze droplets carrying the particles are equally infectious, or if a specific amount of virus needs to be transmitted for a person to get sick by breathing it in. A study last week found that talking alone can launch thousands of droplets into the air, and that they can remain suspended for eight to 14 minutes.

It seems that the virus spreads most easily when people are in close contact with one another — in a conversation, for example — or gathered in poorly ventilated spaces, said Linsey Marr, an aerosol scientist at Virginia Tech.

She said that in order for a person to catch the virus from a surface, it would seem that a few things would have to happen. First, the virus would have to be transmitted to the surface in large enough amounts. Then, it would have to survive on that surface until it was touched by someone else. And even if it was eventually transferred to, say, a person’s finger, it would then have to survive on the skin until that person happened to touch an eye or mouth.

  • Updated May 20, 2020

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      Over 38 million people have filed for unemployment since March. One in five who were working in February reported losing a job or being furloughed in March or the beginning of April, data from a Federal Reserve survey released on May 14 showed, and that pain was highly concentrated among low earners. Fully 39 percent of former workers living in a household earning $40,000 or less lost work, compared with 13 percent in those making more than $100,000, a Fed official said.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • Is ‘Covid toe’ a symptom of the disease?

      There is an uptick in people reporting symptoms of chilblains, which are painful red or purple lesions that typically appear in the winter on fingers or toes. The lesions are emerging as yet another symptom of infection with the new coronavirus. Chilblains are caused by inflammation in small blood vessels in reaction to cold or damp conditions, but they are usually common in the coldest winter months. Federal health officials do not include toe lesions in the list of coronavirus symptoms, but some dermatologists are pushing for a change, saying so-called Covid toe should be sufficient grounds for testing.

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

    • How can I help?

      Charity Navigator, which evaluates charities using a numbers-based system, has a running list of nonprofits working in communities affected by the outbreak. You can give blood through the American Red Cross, and World Central Kitchen has stepped in to distribute meals in major cities.


“There’s just a lot more conditions that have to be met for transmission to happen via touching these objects,” Dr. Marr said.

A lot of what we know about how long the virus lives on surfaces comes from a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine in March. The study found that the virus can survive, under ideal conditions, up to three days on hard metal surfaces and plastic and up to 24 hours on cardboard.

And since catching the coronavirus from a contaminated surface is still considered a possibility, people who prefer to wipe down bags, boxes or park benches can still do so. The C.D.C. recommends washing your hands often and regularly cleaning or disinfecting frequently touched surfaces.

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