YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED: Is Coronavirus On My Shoes? Clothes? Hair? Mail?
Everything In Our Life Can’t Be At Risk, Can It?
We’re a few months into the Coronavirus Pandemic and a common theme of questions has emerged: Many people are fearful about tracking the virus into their homes on their clothes, their shoes, the mail, and even the newspaper.
Infectious disease experts, aerosol scientists and microbiologists answered questions about the risks of coming into contact with the virus during essential trips outside and from deliveries. While we still need to take precautions, their answers were reassuring.
Should I change my clothes and shower when I come home from the grocery store?
For most of us who are practicing social distancing and making only occasional trips to the grocery store or pharmacy, experts agree that it’s not necessary to change clothes or take a shower when you return home. You should, however, always wash your hands. While it’s true that a sneeze or cough from an infected person can propel viral droplets and smaller particles through the air, most of them will drop to the ground. “The droplets are small enough that they’ll move in the air around your body and clothing.”
Why is it that small droplets and viral particles don’t typically land on our clothing?
Dr. Marr to explained further, “The best way to describe it is that they follow the streamlines, or air flow, around a person, because we move relatively slowly. 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,” said Dr. Marr. “Humans don’t usually move fast enough for this to happen,”
So, if you’re out shopping and somebody sneezes on you, you probably do want to go home, change and shower. But the rest of the time, take comfort that your slow-moving body is pushing air and viral particles away from your clothes, a result of simple physics.
Is there a risk that the virus could be in my hair or beard?
Even if someone sneezed on the back of your head, any droplets that landed on your hair would be an unlikely source of infection.
“You have to think through the process of what would have to happen for someone to become infected,” said Dr. Andrew Janowski, instructor of pediatric infectious diseases at Washington University School of Medicine St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “You have someone who sneezes, and they have to have X amount of virus in the sneeze. Then there has to be so many drops that land on you.”
“Then you have to touch that part of your hair or clothing that has those droplets, which already have a significant reduction in viral particles,” Dr. Janowski said. “Then you have to touch that, and then touch whatever part of your face, to come into contact with it. Such an extended number of things have to happen just right. That makes it a very low risk.”
Should I worry about doing laundry and sorting clothes?
The answer depends on whether you’re doing routine laundry or cleaning up after a sick person.
Routine laundry should not cause worry. Wash it as you normally would. While some types of viruses, like the norovirus, can be tough to clean, the new coronavirus, like the flu virus, is surrounded by a fatty membrane that is vulnerable to soap.
The exception is if you are in close contact with a sick person. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that you wear gloves when cleaning up after someone who is sick, and take care not to shake laundry and bedding. Use the warmest water setting possible and dry completely. You can mix laundry from an ill person with the rest of the household load. But just leaving laundry to sit for a while also reduces risk, because the virus will dry out and decay. “We know these types of viruses tend to decay faster on fabric than on hard, solid surfaces like steel or plastic,” said Dr. Marr.
So how long can the virus remain viable on fabric and other surfaces?
Most of what we know about how long this novel coronavirus lives on surfaces comes from an important study published in The New England Journal of Medicine in March. The study found that the virus can survive, under ideal conditions, up to three days on hard metal surfaces and plastic and up to 24 hours on cardboard.
But the study did not look at fabric. Still, most virus experts believe that the cardboard research offers clues about how the virus probably behaves on fabric. The absorbent, natural fibers in the cardboard appeared to cause the virus to dry up more quickly than it does on hard surfaces. The fibers in fabric would be likely to produce a similar effect.
A 2005 study of the virus that causes SARS, another form of coronavirus, provides further reassurance. In that study, researchers tested increasingly large amounts of viral samples on paper and on a cotton gown. Depending on the concentration of the virus, it took five minutes, three hours or 24 hours for it to become inactive. “Even with a relatively high virus load in the droplet, rapid loss of infectivity was observed for paper and cotton material,” the researchers concluded.
Should I be concerned about the mail, packages or the newspaper?
The risk of getting sick from handling mail or packages is extremely low and, at this point, only theoretical. There are no documented cases of someone getting sick from opening a package or reading a newspaper.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take precautions. After handling mail or packages or reading the newspaper, dispose of the packaging and wash your hands. If you still feel especially anxious about it, take guidance from the New England Journal study and just let mail and packages sit for 24 hours before handling them.
How much should I worry about contamination if I go outside to walk the dog or exercise?
Your chances of catching the virus when you go outdoors is extremely low, provided you’re keeping a safe distance from others.
“Outdoors is safe, and there is certainly no cloud of virus-laden droplets hanging around,” said Lidia Morawska, professor and director of the International Laboratory for Air Quality and Health at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia.
“Firstly, any infectious droplets exhaled outside would be quickly diluted in outdoor air, so their concentrations would quickly become insignificant,” Dr. Morawska said.
I’ve read that when I get home from a trip outside I should remove my shoes and wipe them down. Should I waste my precious disinfectant wipes on my shoes?
Shoes can harbor bacteria and viruses, but that doesn’t mean they are a common source of infection. A 2008 study commissioned by Rockport Shoes found a lot of gross stuff, including fecal bacteria, on the soles of our shoes. A recent study from China found that among health care workers, half had coronavirus detected on their shoes, which is not unexpected since they worked in hospitals with infected patients.
So what should we do about our shoes? If your shoes are washable, you can launder them. Some readers asked about cleaning the soles of their shoes with a wipe. That is not recommended, as it brings germs that would stay on the sole of your shoe or on the ground directly to your hands.
You can try not to think about what’s lurking on your shoes — or you can have a conversation with your family about becoming a shoe-free household.
Full story via The New York Times
Here’s to your health,
Tim & Tom Trust,
The Trust Brothers