COVID-19 may persist longer in the environment than we realized. If so, the risk of infection is greater than we think
COVID-19, also known as the Wuhan virus or the coronavirus, fills the news of the world today. Universities all across America are canceling in-person instruction and chasing students out of their dorms. Municipalities and other organizations are canceling school trips and limiting large gatherings. The National Basketball Association has halted its season, cruise lines are stopping services, and stock markets are swooning around the world.
The US federal government has stopped travel from China, Japan, the European Union, and other nations. Celebrities and politicians get infected and talk about it. Meanwhile, regular citizens stock up on toilet paper, water, masks, gloves, and whatever else they think that they need to survive the apocalypse.
Everyone has an opinion. My dentist yesterday said that he thinks that we already have a vaccine but just need to test it. Some women at his office opined that it came from Chinese people eating rats and bats, and if so, they deserve it. I have been asked dozens of times for my medical opinions, some of which are posted here.
What do we need to do to fight the coronavirus (COVID-19)?(1) Wash our hands, (2) Maintain as healthy a lifestyle as possible, (3) Avoid others if we have symptoms, (4) Minimize touching our faces, (5) Keep our environment clean and dry. Some people do these things more faithfully and more effectively than others.
What do governments and organizations need to do to fight the coronavirus (COVID-19)? (1) Research the virus to identify everything possible about it, including transmission and immune response, (2) Develop specific antiviral treatments and vaccines, (3) Support diagnostic and treatment efforts, (4) Limit movement of people with acute infections. The US federal and state governments are doing these things, although the movement limitations are a little more draconic than is medically justified at this time. The World Health Organization is also promoting solid scientific interventions.
A new study suggests that COVID-19 could last longer in the environment than we previously thought. Researchers found that coronavirus persisted for three hours in the air and up to three days on many solid surfaces. If these results are confirmed, it would show that people could be infected with COVID-19 by breathing air from a symptomatic person who coughed hours before or by touching an object touched by an infected person days before.
Coronaviruses, like all germs, live in the environment in a biological matrix like a drop of mucous or a bit of feces. They are deposited in the air, on to someone’s hands, or on to a surface, in this matrix. Soap and water break up the matrix and dilute the virus. This way, even if the virus enters someone else, the concentration may be too low to cause disease. Alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, and other cleaners are also effective in diluting or eliminating the virus from smooth surfaces.
COVID-19 is a naturally derived pathogen in the coronavirus family. It is a serious health threat, but does not warrant panicked purchasing or panicked policy. Partisan politics and petty profiteering only get in the way. Sadly, the number of cases will rise and more people will die: this is inevitable. However, good health, good hygiene, good research and development, good health care, and good policy are the best ways to have the best possible result.