UNC Health Talk

3 Tips to Avoid Contracting COVID-19 from Surfaces

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) mainly spreads from person to person by respiratory secretion droplets that are ejected when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks. But what happens when those droplets hit a surface, like your mail or a cereal box at the grocery store?

It turns out that the virus can live on some surfaces for up to three days, according to a recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine. So if you touch a contaminated object or surface and then touch your mouth, nose or eyes, you could become infected.

It’s important to note that this is not the primary way the virus spreads, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Still, there are simple ways to minimize the risk of contracting the virus from a surface.

1. Wash your hands. A lot.

The good news is that coronaviruses, including COVID-19, are “some of the easiest germs to kill and are less hardy in the environment,” says Emily Sickbert-Bennett, PhD, director of UNC Medical Center Infection Prevention.

Yes, coronaviruses can contaminate any surface, but as with other infectious diseases, it’s not where the virus is found but how likely it is that you can pick it up from that location and get infected, Dr. Sickbert-Bennett says.

“Your hands are the mechanism that would bring any germs from surfaces to your face (and into your body). And so the hands are really the vehicle that you need to think about,” she says.

Washing your hands with soap for 20 seconds kills the virus that causes COVID-19. Therefore, even if the virus is on that package you brought into your house, as long as you thoroughly wash your hands after you handle it, you’ve killed and eliminated the virus. Just be careful not to touch your face or any other surface before you wash up.

It’s important to wash your hands as soon as you come home from running errands or other activities in public, Dr. Sickbert-Bennett says.

2. Use household disinfectant often.

A good rule of thumb is to assume that any surface could be contaminated with germs, Dr. Sickbert-Bennett says.

“Any surface can be contaminated with coronavirus,” she says. “In most household disinfectants, the active ingredients are antimicrobial, which is effective against coronavirus.”

In other words, nearly any household cleaner can easily kill the virus that causes COVID-19. “Coronaviruses are much easier to kill than noroviruses (the virus that causes what’s often called the stomach flu),” Dr. Sickbert-Bennett says. “Disinfection is very effective against coronaviruses.”

Make it a habit to regularly clean doorknobs, cabinet handles, sink faucets and light switches with a disinfectant. And don’t forget high-touch areas such as tables, chairs and countertops, as well as phones, keyboards and TV remote controls.

3. Pay attention to where you place items.

Be mindful of where you put your mail and packages: Are you placing them on the same counter where you’ll be making a salad for dinner? Or maybe you’re putting your grocery bags on the kitchen counter to unload them. That’s OK, but remember to disinfect the kitchen counter before you start preparing food on it.

“Just be thoughtful about what you’re bringing into your house and what it has touched,” Dr. Sickbert-Bennett says. “Think about where you’re putting mail, where you’re putting packages, and making sure that surfaces you’re going to touch are disinfected. Then, wash your hands before you would touch your face or have a snack.”

For the latest information on COVID-19, visit the CDC website and the UNC Health COVID-19 Resources page, and follow UNC Health on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.