SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, "can remain infectious for significantly longer time periods than generally considered possible," the researchers of a new study on surface transmission have explained.
The study, from Australia’s CSIRO science agency, found that SARS-CoV-2 is much more resilient than previously thought and can live up to 28 days on a surface such as a touchscreen — 11 days longer than the influenza virus survives under the same conditions.
COVID-19 tested in lab conditions
The team behind the research-tested SARS-CoV-2 under different temperatures and on various surfaces in a lab setting. They found that when samples were tested in the dark at 68° Fahrenheit (20° Celsius) on non-porous surfaces (glass, polymer, stainless steel, vinyl, and paper), the virus was recoverable for 28 days.
It's worth noting though that some natural conditions may work in our favor, such as sunlight — UV light is thought to kill the virus on surfaces. At 86° Fahrenheit (30° Celsius), samples of stainless steel, polymer, and glass showed that the live infectious virus was recoverable for a reduced seven days.
Non-porous materials like cotton cloth were found to contain traces of infectious virus for up to 14 days with a temperature of 68° Fahrenheit.
Criticisms leveled at the new COVID-19 study
Though previous research suggested that SARS-CoV-2 is much less resilient on surfaces — lasting approximately 11 days maximum — than this new study indicates, there is no reason to panic.
In fact, Professor Ron Eccles, former director of the Common Cold Centre at Cardiff University, criticized the study for being alarmist. Prof. Eccles told the BBC that the study should have used fresh human mucus as a vehicle for the virus in the lab tests as the white cell load in mucus can damage the virus.
Eccles says that, in his opinion, the virus "will only persist for hours in mucus on surfaces rather than days."
Perhaps the main takeaway from the new study, as well as the reaction to it, is that there is still a lot we do not know about the transmission of COVID-19 and that it is important not to let our guards down without further knowledge and progress from the scientific community.