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How Long Does the Coronavirus Really Live on Surfaces?
By Robert Kravitz, President AlturaSolutions
Published: 01/18/2021

Virus2 An October 2020 study published in Virology Journal, an open-access journal that publishes scientific data and clinical studies, found that the pathogens that cause COVID-19 can live as long as 28 days on surfaces. This is far longer than similar studies looking into the pathogen’s life span.

According to their conclusion:
These findings demonstrate that SARS-CoV-2 can remain infectious for significantly longer periods than generally considered possible. These results could be used to inform improved risk mitigation procedures to prevent the … spread of COVID-19.

What does this mean for correctional facility administrators? If the pathogen that causes COVID can live on surfaces for nearly a month, it would be nearly impossible to keep correctional facilities healthy, protecting both inmates and staff.

But here is what we need to realize about studies like this: they are not necessarily based on real-world situations. This is not to say the Virology study is wrong or not accurate. Far from it. This study was peer-reviewed before it was published and the data are sound. But as we dig deeper into this and similar studies, we find the following:
  • The virus is typically stored in a saline solution.
  • Samples are often diluted in solutions that “mimic” body secretions.
  • These studies are conducted in "clean rooms," where surfaces and indoor air are contamination free.
  • In most cases, temperature and humidity are closely monitored to ensure the virus is stored at room temperature, around 70 degrees (F).
  • The Petri dishes containing the pathogens are usually covered or protected so that they cannot become contaminated with surface or airborne pathogens.
  • Studies are typically conducted in darkroom settings.
  • While the coronavirus may survive up to 28 days, this does not mean it is still infectious.
As we can easily decipher, a correctional facility, even the best cleaned, disinfected, and maintained, does not meet these "clean room" standards. That means the study results do not necessarily reflect the way the virus will behave in a normal facility, correctional or otherwise.

Further, the media often do not report all of the study parameters, which can impact the life span of the virus. Several important factors may complicate a study’s conclusions. Among them are the following:
  • What were the quantity and quality of the pathogens tested?
  • How were the pathogens collected? Were they droplets derived from a cough? A sneeze? From saliva?
  • Were the droplets collected from a surface using a cotton cloth? What types of surfaces were they on? Cotton cloth, for instance, can shorten the virus’s life span.
  • What solutions "meant to mimic body secretion" were used? Some solutions lengthen the life span of pathogens, while others may shorten it.
As you can see, there are many variables that must be considered. Until researchers can replicate real-world situations, we may need to take these studies with a "grain of salt."

With this understood, are there any guidelines correctional administrators can follow when it comes to the coronavirus's life span on surfaces? According to various studies that have been peer-reviewed by medical professionals, the following should help:
  • The virus can live about five days on metal and metal objects.
  • Glass windows and mirrors, five days.
  • On wood, about four days.
  • On plastic materials, two to three days.
  • Stainless steel, again two to three days.
  • Paper, a few minutes to a few days, particularly on paper money.
Further, we can shorten many these life spans with proper and effective cleaning. In fact, thorough and effective cleaning is one of the best ways we can minimize the spread of this infection.

And fortunately, technologies such as UV (ultraviolet) lights, electrostatic sprayers, and no-touch cleaning systems, as we have discussed before in this column, are making this easier than ever before.

2020 was a year of confusion. Incomplete and inaccurate information about the coronavirus may have added to the confusion.

The guidelines discuss here are intended to clarify the facts about the virus, helping correctional administrators maintain a much cleaner and healthier facility than ever before.

Robert Kravitz is a frequent writer for the professional cleaning industry.


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