As the coronavirus continues to rage across the country, there are still questions about how it is spreading. NPR has asked experts in virology, epidemiology, and environmental microbiology questions from readers and listeners.
The virus lives on hard surfaces, but what about clothing?
While there aren’t any scientific findings about the viability of the virus on clothing, don’t be overly worried. Fabrics are porous. While cardboard is porous and has been tested, the tests have been done in controlled and ideal conditions. No fluctuations in wind or humidity would provide an ideal environment for the virus, and there are no conditions in testing that would dessicate, or dry out, the virus. Dessication would reduce the time that the virus is viable on any surface.
Porousness is a good thing when it comes to viruses. Fabric will tend to trap the virus, keeping it stuck to the surface and less capable of transferring off. Porous surfaces also suck the fluid from the lipid membrane of the virus, so it becomes dried out and no longer infective.
That being said, if you are concerned, launder fabrics in the warmest water appropriate and dry. Detergent should render the virus not infective. If you are caring for someone sick or immunocompromised, the CDC recommends you take precautions with gloves when handling their dirty laundry.
Disinfecting wipes: How much surface area can they cover and still be effective in destroying the virus?
The label should give some instruction. Clorox wipes say: “Use enough wipes for treated surface to remain visibly wet for 4 minutes. To kill viruses, let stand 15 seconds.” The time of visible wetness is important. When you are keeping the surface wet with the chemical, you are allowing the chemical reactions to take place to degrade the virus.
If your Clorox wipe isn’t leaving the surface visibly wet for 4 minutes, you are probably using it over too big of an area. One study in 2018 found that treating an area of 1-2 square feet was more effective than trying to cover 8 square feet.
The good news is that you don’t need a premade wipe to accomplish this. You can make your own solution by using 4 teaspoons of bleach in a quart of water. The CDC says you can use other products that contain bleach (sodium hypoclorite) or 70% alcohol.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has posted a list of approved products to disinfect against the coronavirus.
Strangers are petting my dog on walks. Can they transmit the virus to its fur?
Like fabric, fur is a porous surface, so it wouldn’t be easy to pick up bits of the virus from fur. It’s suggested that more worrisome is that the virus is transferred to the pet’s collar or leash, an inanimate surface, by someone coughing all over their hands and then touching the straps. You can avoid others touching your dog by keeping your distance from others. Avoid dog parks, and walk in your own yard or places where you won’t encounter many others.
Despite the occasional media report that a dog has contracted the virus, there is no evidence to indicate pets can contract or transmit the virus. The CDC says it has not received any reports of illness in pets, and the American Veterinary Medical Association agrees. The AVMA does recommend that you limit your contact with pets if you become ill with COVID-19 out of an abundance of caution until more is known about the virus.
Can you get COVID-19 more than once?
In short, we don’t know yet whether people can be reinfected or how long immunity might last after infection.
The severe coronaviruses SARS and MERS did produce antibodies in those who were afflicted. Those who were infected with MERS generated an immune response up to 2 years later, and those severely ill had immunities longer.
However in the case of the four coronaviruses that cause the common cold, antibodies last only a short time and the person can be reinfected over and over.
Some not-yet-peer-reviewed studies show that the new coronovirus does not cause reinfections.
“I think there’s a very likely scenario where the virus comes through this year, and everyone gets some level of immunity to it, and if it comes back again, we will be protected from it,” Matt Frieman, a coronavirus researcher at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, told NPR. “Either completely or if you do get reinfected later, a year from now, then you have much less disease.”
“That is the hope,” he adds. “But there is no way to know that.”
Staying safe distances from others and knowing how to avoid bringing the virus into our safe havens is key. Revisit the News Views link below to learn how to safely bring groceries and take out food into your home, and watch the WHO video on how to properly wash your hands.
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