What’s the Deal With Coronavirus and Surface Spread?

Updated guidance from the CDC provides new details about the virus’ transmission patterns

Yasmin Tayag
Medium Coronavirus Blog
2 min readMay 22, 2020

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Uncertainty about Covid-19’s ability to spread through surfaces can make it seem like no surface is ever clean enough. Maybe you’ve found yourself in the absurd situation of wiping down a box of Cheerios, or disinfecting bicycle handles until the rubber starts to flake. Such efforts are understandable — in the face of uncertainty, better to be safe than sorry.

But now, updated guidance from the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention states that the virus “does not spread easily” from touching surfaces or objects. The recent update to its “How Covid-19 Spreads” website emphasizes that person-to-person contact remains the primary way that the disease spreads. Previous research has established that the virus is largely spread through respiratory droplets produced when we talk, cough, and sneeze. When others breathe in those droplets, they can become infected.

Previous research has shown that traces of the virus can be detected on surfaces, as was the case on the Diamond Princess and Grand Princess cruise ships, where viral RNA remained on surfaces for up to 17 days. But crucially, that research did not show that the viral particles found on the surfaces can cause infection.

While transmission via surfaces is not ruled out entirely, the CDC guidance says that touching surfaces or objects “is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads, but we are still learning more about this virus.” It notes further that it “may be possible that a person can get Covid-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes.”

Relatedly, it also states that the risk of Covid-19 spreading from animals to people is “considered to be low,” though it acknowledges that the virus can spread from people to animals.”

While cleanliness and good hygiene remain paramount, the CDC says human contact is how Covid-19 spreads “very easily and sustainably between people,” so social distancing, as always, remains the ultimate tool to keep you and your loved ones safe.

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Yasmin Tayag
Medium Coronavirus Blog

Editor, Medium Coronavirus Blog. Senior editor at Future Human by OneZero. Previously: science at Inverse, genetics at NYU.