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New study says coronavirus can survive up to 7 days on a face mask

Updated Apr 9th, 2020 12:25PM EDT
Coronavirus Tips
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  • A new coronavirus study looking at the virus’s ability to survive on different surfaces reveals that traces of SARS-CoV-2 were found on face masks for up to seven days after contamination.
  • The COVID-19 virus can survive anywhere from a few hours to a few days on different surfaces in regular temperature and humidity conditions.
  • Studies have shown that disinfectants, soap, as well as heat will help kill the virus.
  • Visit BGR’s homepage for more stories.

After some back and forth on the matter that was likely caused by the widespread shortage of medical masks, the CDC finally changed its mind on the use of face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic. The official advice is that you should use face protection that you can make yourself out of household items rather than hoarding surgical masks and N95 respirators. Those on the front lines fighting the novel coronavirus should have those first, including doctors, nurses, first responders, and anyone else dealing with patients on a regular basis. We already showed you a few tips for using coronavirus masks safely, and gave you a guide on how to make your own coronavirus face mask with easy-to-find materials — you don’t even have to sew.

More importantly, we told you that you shouldn’t let your guard down just because you’re protecting your nose and mouth with a piece of cloth or even an actual mask. First of all, that physical barrier doesn’t come with a 100% guarantee that you won’t get the virus. Secondly, you shouldn’t stop practicing social distancing and proper hygiene because you’ve got a mask on. To further reinforce that idea, we now have a new study that looked at the survivability of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Interestingly, one of them found traces of the microorganism for up to seven days on a mask.

A study in mid-March told us that the novel virus can be found for up to three hours in the air, and can live for up to three days on plastic and stainless steel. Then, the CDC found traces of the virus inside one of the cruise ships that housed quarantined COVID-19 patients 17 days after they left. That doesn’t mean the virus is infectious after that long, but the finding goes to show why SARS-CoV-2 is so dangerous.

Published in The Lancet in early April, a new study from the University of Hong Kong looked at the stability of the virus in various environments. This is the study that said that “a detectable level of infectious virus could still be present on the outer layer of a surgical mask on day 7.” This detail alone should remind you to always ditch disposable masks and wash the reusable ones you make at home each time you’ve used one. Also, it’s critical to avoid touching the mask and touching your face while you’re using the mask.

Here are other findings from the study:

  • the virus is highly stable at 4°C/39.2°F but it’s sensitive to heat
  • the virus is inactivated in just 5 minutes at 70°C/158°F
  • printing and paper: virus dies after 3 hours (22°C/71.6°F and 65% humidity)
  • wood and cloth: virus dies after 2 days (22°C/71.6°F and 65% humidity)
  • glass and banknotes: virus dies after 4 days (22°C/71.6°F and 65% humidity)
  • stainless steel and plastic: virus dies after 7 days (22°C/71.6°F and 65% humidity)

The study found the virus is extremely stable in a wide range of pH values (3-10), but that it dies when disinfected. “With the exception of a 5-min incubation with hand soap, no infectious virus could be detected after a 5-min incubation at room temperature” (22°C/71.6°F), the study reads.

In other words, it’s essential to keep common surfaces clean, wash clothes you wear outside, and maintain proper hygiene. Also, keep washing your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds when handling items you’ve brought in from outside your home.

Conversely, the exposure to heat will kill the virus, which is a critical detail for food, one that we’ve covered before. Heated food will not have traces of the virus, though eating traces of SARS-CoV-2 isn’t even likely to get you infected.

A similar study from the China CDC focused on the sensitivity 2003 SARS coronavirus, the precursor to SARS-CoV-2,  to heating and UV radiation:

The results showed that SARS coronavirus in the testing condition could survive in serum, 1:20 diluted sputum and feces for at least 96h, whereas it could remain alive in urine for at least 72h with a low level of infectivity. The survival abilities on the surfaces of eight different materials and in water were quite comparable, revealing reduction of infectivity after 72 to 96h exposure. Viruses stayed stable at [4°C/39.2°F], at room temperature [20°C/68°F] and at [37°C/98.6°F] for at least 2h without remarkable change in the infectious ability in cells, but were converted to be non-infectious after 90-, 60- and 30-min exposure at [56°C/132..8°F], at [67°C/152.6°F] and at [75°C/167°F], respectively. Irradiation of UV for 60 min on the virus in culture medium resulted in the destruction of viral infectivity at an undetectable level.

The way the immune system fights against the coronavirus and others is by raising the body’s temperature. These pathogens thrive at regular body temperature, and fevers work against them. The human body will never reach the temperatures detailed in these reports, however, nor could it ever survive them. Fever management is also critical while dealing with COVID-19 and other medical conditions, and you should check with your doctor on the proper course of treatment if you do have a high fever.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.

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