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COVID-19 can stay on surfaces for hours, study says

A doctor discusses a new study that looks at how long the COVID-19 virus can live in the air and on objects.
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich — As we continue to learn more about COVID-19, recent research is emerging about just how long the virus can remain stable on surfaces.

Cleveland Clinic’s Nikita Desai, M.D., did not take part in the study, but said results show the virus is capable of living on some objects for days.

“We learned that aerosolized, or suspended in-air virus, can stay persistent for three hours,” she said. ”And when we’re looking at inactive objects, such as stainless steel, and plastic, the virus can stay and live outside the body for two to three days, if not, longer.” 

The study also found the COVID-19 respiratory virus was able to stay on copper for up to four hours, and cardboard for up to 24 hours.

Findings suggest that it’s possible for individuals to acquire the virus through the air or after touching contaminated objects, even if they never touched a person who was infected.

“People may not be aware that even if they don’t shake hands with somebody, they may touch a surface that someone infected with the virus may have touched hours or days before,” said Dr. Desai. ”Doing this can spread the infection, not only to themselves, but everyone they come in contact with.”

Dr. Desai said experts are still learning about COVID-19, but we do know that frequent hand-washing is key, especially when folks have been in contact with surfaces in public places. 

“Remember that when we’re talking about the spread of a virus, we’re not just talking about person-to-person transmission, we’re talking about place-to-place transmission,” she said. “Everywhere you go, there is a risk that someone with COVID-19 could have been there before you.”

Dr. Desai urges people to refrain from elective events that can be postponed or canceled.

She said it’s also a smart idea to avoid unnecessary travel for the sake of public health.

Here is our full 13 ON YOUR SIDE coronavirus website

Do you have more questions about COVID-19 in Michigan? Check out the state's website.


Patients with confirmed infection have reportedly had mild to severe respiratory illness with symptoms of:  

  • Fever  
  • Cough  
  • Shortness of breath  

The best prevention for viruses, such as influenza, the common cold or COVID-19 is to:  

  • If you think you have been exposed to COVID-19, call your health care provider. If you do not have a health care provider, call the nearest hospital.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for 20 seconds. If not available, use hand sanitizer. 
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.     
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or upper sleeve when coughing or sneezing.    
  • Avoid contact with people who are sick.    
  • If you are sick, stay home, and avoid contact with others.    
  • Stay at least 6 feet away from others when in a public setting.  



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