New York Times health columnist Tara Parker-Pope did a national public service by interviewing experts about how the coronavirus stays on different materials and what precautions people should take.
In summary, if you practice good sanitation, there’s no reason to live in constant fear of contracting COVID-19 while going about everyday life. That’s consolation as Mississippi and America move toward reopening for business as the viral threat slowly begins to subside.
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Here’s a look at the specific findings from the column entitled, “Is the virus on my clothes? My shoes? My hair? My newspaper?”
It’s not necessary to change clothes or take a shower upon return, but you should wash your hands. Most viral droplets from sneezes or coughs will drop to the ground, and those that remain in the air are unlikely to land on your clothes because of aerodynamics.
“It’s kind of like small insects and dust particles flowing in the streamlines around a car at slow speed but potentially slamming into the windshield if the car is going fast enough. Humans don’t usually move fast enough for this to happen,” Linsey Marr, an aerosol scientist at Virginia Tech, was quoted as saying. “As we move, we push air out of the way, and most of the droplets and particles get pushed out of the way, too. Someone would have to spray large droplets through talking — a spit talker — coughing or sneezing for them to land on our clothes.”
Laundry for people who aren’t sick can continue as normal; detergent will break down the fatty membrane surrounding the virus, which is already unlikely to be on such clothes. If caring for a sick person, though, wear gloves while washing clothes and take care not to shake them. You can mix the clothes with the rest of the household’s, and then dry completely and let them sit for a while to reduce risk.
“We know these types of viruses tend to decay faster on fabric than on hard, solid surfaces like steel or plastic,” Marr said.
Studies show that the virus can survive, under ideal conditions, for up to three days on hard surfaces, such as metal or plastics, but only up to 24 hours on cardboard. But the thing to keep in mind is in real-life conditions, the virus is likely to corrode more quickly. The column described the risk from mail, packages or newspapers as “extremely low and, at this point, only theoretical.” But you can wash your hands after handling, or, if being particularly cautious, let them sit 24 hours after delivery.
Simply put, “Outdoors is safe, and there is certainly no cloud of virus-laden droplets hanging around,” Lidia Morawska, an Australian professor and director of an international laboratory that studies air quality, was quoted as saying. That’s because droplets exhaled outside quickly become insignificant amounts as they are diluted by the outdoor air.
While viruses can live on shoes, the column said that doesn’t mean they’re a likely COVID-19 source. If washable, you can launder them, but it’s advised not to wipe them down with a cleaning wipe because that brings germs that would normally stay on the sole of your shoe or the ground into direct contact with your hands. One option is not wearing shoes inside, particularly if you have a crawling baby, allergies or a weakened immune system.