COVID-19: Are you ready for the next normal?


COVID-19: How Long Can the Virus Survive on Surfaces?


Credit: Fusion Animation


Hung Cheung, MD, MPH, FACOEM – Environmental Epidemiology, Toxicology, Public Health

COVID-19: How Long Can the Virus Survive on Surfaces[1]?

Research is being conducted to figure out just how long, and under what conditions, SARS-CoV-2 (the virus responsible for COVID-19 infection) is able to survive on different surfaces.  Understanding how long the virus can live on surfaces can give great insight into transmission of the virus as well as how to adequately disinfect surfaces to decrease spread of the virus.

We know from previous research published in the New England Journal of Medicine that SARS-CoV-2 is viable in the air and on surfaces between several hours and several days. A more recent study published in the Lancet reported on the stability of the virus in different environmental conditions, on different surfaces and what happens to the virus when exposed to disinfectant use.

The researchers looked at the virus’ stability at cold and hot temperatures on the same surface. The virus appeared to be stable at colder temperatures and  remained viable after 14 days at 4°C  or approximately 40°F. However, when heated to 70°C, approximately 158°F,  the virus was inactivated within 5 minutes.

The stability of the virus on different surfaces including paper, tissue, wood, cloth, glass, banknote, stainless steel, plastic and the inner and outer layers of masks was studied and showed:

  • No infectious virus was found on printing and tissue papers after 3-hours,
  • No infectious virus could be detected from treated wood and cloth on day 2
  • No infectious virus could be detected on smooth surfaces on day 4 (glass and banknote) or day 7 (stainless steel and plastic).
  • A detectable level of infectious virus could still be present on the outer layer of a surgical mask on day 7. The recovery from the face mask on day 7 was very small. The question as to whether infection risk is possible is being debated. [Note: Virus survival on the face mask may be very different when worn due to many factors including moisture and warm temperature from the act of breathing.] With the growing need for mask use and support for the use of facemasks outside of healthcare, further studies about the implications of this finding are necessary.

Knowing that the virus can live on certain surfaces begs the question: what can we do  to prevent the spread?  We know from this research that the virus is very sensitive to heat and the proper use of many different disinfection products. Proper use includes concentration, application, and most importantly, contact time. These vary by disinfectant, so it is important to read the manufacturers recommendations as well as the EPA Products with Emerging Viral Pathogens AND Human Coronavirus claims for use against SARS-CoV-2. Contact time is the period of time the disinfectant solution remains wet on the surface. When cleaning, special focus should be paid to high touch areas or shared equipment/ supplies.  This means more frequent cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces that people regularly come in contact with, such as doorknobs, elevator buttons, shared clipboards, shared office phones (at reception or security, etc.), handrails, shared pens, or faucets, etc. But what about different surface types? What about upholstered furniture and clothing? What is the correct disinfection procedure for my surface, situation and organization?

There are significant gaps in our knowledge of this novel and rapidly mutating Corona virus. The situation is fluid and evolving during this world-wide outbreak. Cogency will strive to stay on top of this situation to keep you informed. For more information about this Corona virus outbreak and how to characterize your risk and reduce risk to those you are charged to protect, contact the experts at Cogency at

Please stay tuned to the announcement of Cogency’s next webinar: COVID-19 for businesses 301, that will address many important issues including:

  • Why do we need a staged COVID-19 exit strategy?
  • Will it take 2 years before we get back to pre-COVID-19 baseline?
  • Will there be a second wave and a third wave?
  • What might affect their occurrence or the intensity of the peaks?
  • How will that affect my business?
  • Should I be thinking about regarding interim steps?

[1] NOTE: In general, virus survival also appears to depend on the viral load (inoculum) and whether it was protected, e.g., within biofilm or soil, etc., from the external harsh environment. Survival in a controlled laboratory situation is very different from virus laden phlegm from a cough or nasal discharges from a sneeze that land on various surfaces. The inoculum and biofilm protecting the virus from the environment will affect its ultimate survival length, which may be significantly different from lab situations.