Could coronavirus stay on surfaces and infect you? - study

There’s a new concern with corona. In certain places, the virus stays on surfaces for many days.

Nurses check the charts of two coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patients inside the intensive care unit of Humber River Hospital in Toronto, Ontario, Canada April 15, 2021. (photo credit: REUTERS/CARLOS OSORIO)
Nurses check the charts of two coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patients inside the intensive care unit of Humber River Hospital in Toronto, Ontario, Canada April 15, 2021.
(photo credit: REUTERS/CARLOS OSORIO)

At the start of the pandemic we feared that the virus might remain on surfaces for days and could cause massive rates of infection. As time passed, most studies have shown that this is rarely the case. But new research shows that there’s a place where people must remain cautious.

One of the biggest concerns in March 2020, when lockdowns started and we still knew absolutely nothing, was that the virus would remain on surfaces for hours and even days . It was later discovered that this was true, but these are rare cases and most of the time the virus is transmitted by droplets.

But a new study from the University of Michigan finds that the virus is found on surfaces like night stands, emergency buttons and TV remotes in the rooms of patients who need daily care in nursing homes.

Published in the Journal of the American Society of Geriatrics, the study found that 90% of people with corona who live in nursing homes had virus particles on at least one surface. In some cases, scientists even found particles of the virus days after the patient left the hospital. 

Nurses check the charts of two coronavirus patients (Credit: REUTERS)Nurses check the charts of two coronavirus patients (Credit: REUTERS)

Although the vast majority of corona infections occur due to airborne transmission, these findings suggest that surfaces can also be contagious, especially in places like nursing homes.

In total, the team collected 2,000 samples from 104 rooms in which corona patients stayed, and from adjacent rooms. They found that 28% of the samples contained traces of RNA from the virus. The researchers analyzed a total of four nursing homes in Michigan between October 2020 and January 2021.

The authors didn’t test the RNA samples they collected to see if these were “strong enough” to actually infect another person. Still, they conclude that this study can significantly help identify surfaces that health care workers must routinely clean and disinfect.

"These data show that the virus is everywhere, and even remains in the rooms of nursing home residents with COVID-19, which emphasizes the crucial importance of thorough cleaning," said author Dr. Luna Moody, who leads infection prevention research at nursing homes in the department of internal medicine at the University of Michigan's academic medical center called Michigan Medicine.

But there’s good news. This study also showed that the virus didn’t “escape” the specific rooms of sick people residing in nursing homes. The researchers speculate that this finding is due to strict cleaning methods among nursing home staff.

A nursing home worker and a medic put on personal protective equipment while preparing to transport a patient into an ambulance  (Credit; REUTERS)A nursing home worker and a medic put on personal protective equipment while preparing to transport a patient into an ambulance (Credit; REUTERS)

All rooms examined belonged to patients diagnosed with corona within two weeks of the test. In each, a patient was hospitalized in a special corona unit. It’s also worth noting that over half of these patients have dementia which requires close contact with more staffers, as they need help with bathing and dressing. This detail is mentioned because the more independent the patients were, the less likely the researchers were to find virus remnants on surfaces in their room.

Recall that at the beginning of the pandemic, nursing homes worldwide reported massive outbreaks of the virus. Now that most residents of nursing homes and assisted living apartments are vaccinated, they’re more protected, but according to this study they’re still vulnerable.