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Can you really catch coronavirus from packages delivered to your home?

Published Jun 2nd, 2020 9:54AM EDT
coronavirus packages
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  • A South Korean e-commerce warehouse has reported an outbreak of coronavirus cases among its employees.
  • Fear of a new outbreak from shipped packages has grown, but the odds of becoming infected from a box or other package is slim.
  • The World Health Organization says that there’s no evidence that the virus can survive on cardboard longer than a day under the best conditions.

Shortly after the coronavirus pandemic became a worldwide health crisis, many people wondered just how feasible it would be that the virus could latch on to surfaces like cardboard boxes and remain alive for days. If it could, that would mean that packages shipped across the country or even overseas had the potential to carry the virus with them.

Now, with a warehouse facility in South Korea revealing a huge outbreak among its staff, the answer to that question is perhaps more important than ever. Unfortunately, there’s little clarity to be found, and that means I have both good news and bad news.

First, the good news: The World Health Organization says that, based on laboratory testing, the coronavirus can remain alive on cardboard for up to 24 hours under certain conditions. That’s significantly less time than if the virus is on steel or plastic, which can keep the virus alive for up to a few days.

As AP reports, the warehouse is operated by an e-commerce company, and, like most companies do, it ships products in cardboard boxes. Based on the worst-case scenarios — where the virus survives for a full day on the cardboard surface of a box — you could expect the package to be “safe” within a day, even if it was contaminated in the warehouse, which is no guarantee.

The other bit of good news is that Korean health officials say that there’s zero evidence that anyone has become infected by the novel coronavirus from any packaging. That doesn’t fully rule out the possibility, but it’s worth keeping in mind.

Now for the not-so-great news: South Korea loves fast delivery. The company that reported the infection in its warehouse offers rapid grocery delivery services and other next-day or same-day delivery options. Authorities still don’t believe anyone has become infected as a result of this warehouse outbreak, but the speedy delivery options are potentially worrisome for those who received shipments from the facility.

As you might expect, South Korean officials have downplayed the potential for the warehouse outbreak to create a spike in new cases. The country’s health officials have stated that as long as people wash their hands, they should have no concern regarding contracting the virus from delivery packages.

Put simply, there’s probably very little reason to be concerned about the spread of the virus via shipped packages. The risk is incredibly small, and if you’re smart about it — like washing your hands after unpacking your goods — you’re very unlikely to become sick from a package. That is, unless the delivery man spits on it.

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