In the age of coronavirus, does that package dropped off at your front door have to be quarantined or wiped down? What about the letters, bills, and invitations for likely canceled parties in your mailbox? Or the groceries you got delivered?
The questions are essentially the same: If someone carrying the novel coronavirus came into contact with an object, is it safe to bring into your home?
“There is currently no evidence that COVID-19 is being spread through the mail,” US Postal Service spokesman Steve Doherty said, citing guidances from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and the US Surgeon General. The postal service is still taking precautions to protect its employees and customers, Doherty said, mostly sharing information from the CDC with employees.
The novel and fast-spreading coronavirus is still relatively new in humans, and researchers still have many unanswered questions. But for now, it seems to be transmitted from person to person, through direct contact. And it can be killed by thoroughly disinfecting a surface with soap and water, an alcohol-based sanitizer, or bleach.
The virus needs a living host to multiply and survive. Without one, it will begin dying off, and eventually become undetectable. How long that takes may depend on the type of surface it’s on, according to a letter published March 17 in the New England Journal of Medicine.
On cardboard, researchers could no longer detect traces of the virus after 48 hours. On a plastic surface it took 72 hours to become completely undetectable, though it took only eight hours for about 90 percent of the sample researchers deposited to die off. On stainless steel, the virus was undetectable after 48 hours, with numbers falling significantly after about four hours.
But keep in mind that those numbers all applied to a lab study — the risk of contracting the virus from an object in real-life conditions may be significantly lower.
So get your mail and open your package — just wash your hands soon after.
Gal Tziperman Lotan is a former Globe staff member.