Scientists have made a disturbing discovery about the deadly coronavirus.
The virus that causes COVID-19 can survive in the air for hours and on contaminated surfaces for days a time, according to a new scientific study cited by The Hill. However, the study’s findings do not prove that the virus has infected anyone through lingering droplets in the air or on surfaces, the researchers said.
“Our results indicate that aerosol and fomite transmission of HCoV-19 is plausible, as the virus can remain viable in aerosols for multiple hours and on surfaces up to days,” they explained, according to The Hill.
The virus is most commonly spread through person-to-person contact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including close contact with an infected person (within six feet) or getting coughed or sneezed on by a carrier of the disease. Health officials have advised people to wash their hands frequently, cover their faces when coughing or sneezing, avoid touching their faces, stay home if they’re sick, and maintain a distance from others who are sick. “Social distancing” is the keyword.
However, there are still many unknowns about the virus, including a mortality rate that is still being assessed. Government and private scientists who performed a test on the durability of COVID-19 found that it has a viability similar to the SARS virus from 2002–2003, another coronavirus.
The scientists modeled the disease’s viability by spraying a sample of COVID-19 into the air using a nebulizer. They found that the virus survived for three hours in the air, up to four hours on copper, 24 hours on cardboard, and two to three days on stainless steel and plastic.
The researchers said that that the study suggests that the virus can be spread by breathing it in from the air or touching infected surfaces — but the study doesn’t prove that anyone has been infected that way, the New York Post notes. The paper, which was produced by scientists Princeton University, the University of California, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has not been peer-reviewed.
Fighting a pandemic
Like SARS and other coronaviruses, COVID-19 is zoonotic, meaning that it spread from animals to humans, and it likely originated in a seafood market in Wuhan, China. According to The Guardian, most who get the virus develop only mild symptoms, but it can be fatal, especially for older people and those with underlying health problems.
Although the spread is slowing down in China, the virus was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday, according to The Hill — shortly before President Donald Trump declared a ban on travel to and from Europe for 30 days. Italy is also in lockdown as the country grapples with the most severe spread of the disease in the Western world.
With over 100,000 cases worldwide and well over 4,000 deaths, the novel coronavirus has become a global crisis that is vexing national governments and disrupting daily life for numberless people. Interruptions to the economy, air travel, sporting events, parades, school, and work are making their impact intimately felt across the United States. Meanwhile, more than 1,000 Americans have caught the virus and at least 36 have died, according to the CDC.
Adding to fear of the new virus is an uncertainty factor: there is no vaccine, and scientists aren’t totally sure how deadly it is. Anthony Fauci from the National Institute of Health said Wednesday that the coronavirus is likely 10 times deadlier than the seasonal flu, which has a mortality rate of 0.1%. (SARS had a mortality rate of 10%.)
“I can say we will see more cases,” Fauci said Wednesday, according to CNBC. “Things will get worse than they are right now.”