By Alan Gionet

FORT COLLINS, Colo. (CBS4) The coronavirus pandemic is getting us thinking about what we would otherwise probably ignore. All around you are surfaces where bacteria and viruses hang out. They live there. And die there. And can wait to kill us, too.

(credit: CBS)

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The coronavirus is no exception. There’s one good thing says CSU’s Alan Schenkel, an associate professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology, “This virus is relatively easy to disrupt.”

Schenkel points out that it’s not one of the tougher viruses out there like the norovirus. The norovirus has an outer surface composed of tough proteins. But the novel coronavirus has an envelope of lipids. Those are fatty acids.

“The envelope is susceptible to degradation by things like soap and alcohol and that’s why hand sanitizer and things like washing our hands in hot water and soap works so well.”

(credit: CBS)

There are some interesting mysteries about how long COVID-19 can hang around. The National Institutes of Health looked into its survival on surfaces and found it much like the SARS virus, which is also a coronavirus. They noted it can survive on plastic or stainless steel for 2-3 days. On cardboard it lasts about 24 hours. On copper, about four hours. Copper is anti-microbial.

“And probably for this virus, it gets poisoned by the high levels of copper that are there… stainless steel isn’t so pathogenic against viruses and bacteria and so is probably a nice stable surface for it to last,” noted Schenkel.

One study indicated it deteriorated more rapidly on paper than cardboard.

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(credit: CBS)

“It was really quite rapid actually,” said Schenkel. “maybe that lipid envelope, that fatty envelope, maybe it absorbed onto the paper and the virus fell apart.”

Another study pointed out that it lasted far longer on money than on paper. But American money is actually a mixture of cotton and linen. The more the virus falls apart, the lesser the load and potentially, the greater your ability to fight it off or reduce the severity of the illness.

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Since it deteriorates on cardboard in 24 hours and paper sooner, that means those packages arriving at your door are likely fine if you can leave them be for a day. It’s a little tougher with your mail.

“Maybe the mail person has it and doesn’t know or is asymptomatic, which is the biggest problem we have with this virus; people are infectious but not showing any symptoms.”

Professor said it might be best to figure out a way to leave your mail alone, too.
“Probably the best bet is to take your mail and let it sit for a couple of days and then open it up. It should probably be fine. Or you can open it and wash your hands and dispose of most of it,” Schenkel said.

“Most of the mail is advertisement,” he pointed out, which doesn’t bode well for the people who love to send it to you, that you’ll just toss it. But these are difficult times.

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Alan Gionet