Can You Get COVID-19 From Your Mail?

A common question that is being asked is “Can I become infected with the Coronavirus (COVID-19) by touching my mail or a package?” Some key information on answering this question was included in a study released by the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) Doremalen et al. (2020). The results of the study is making headlines and is making people think twice about how they might be exposed to COVID-19 if they open a box delivered to them, touch packages at the grocery store, or accept delivery of takeout food or groceries.

Disease transmission from inanimate surfaces can happen and there is a term for it, called fomite transmission, which is the transmission of the virus from an inanimate object that has been contaminated by an infected individual. The NEJM study indicated that viable virus could be detected in aerosols up to 3 hours post aerosolization, up to 4 hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to 2-3 days on plastic and stainless steel.

It is important to understand that detection does not necessarily equate into a viable virus capable of causing an infection if it was introduced into a human. In order to understand the potency of an infectious agent, such as a virus, scientists examine the half-life of a substance. Half-life is how long it takes the viral concentration to decrease by half, then half of that half, and so on until it’s gone. Half-life is also dependent upon the concentration of the virus, which means surfaces contaminated with only a small concentration would have a much shorter half-life and become nondetectable in a short time period measured over minutes vs hours.

The NEJM study indicates that that the virus’s half-life on copper was 46 minutes, stainless steel was 5.6 hours, plastic was 6.8 hours, and cardboard was 3.5 hours. The authors note that more variability was found in replicates for the result of cardboard, and thus the findings are associated with some uncertainty.

In order to get infected from your mail or package, there has to be several factors present such as having an infected person pack your order, an infected person shedding the virus on the package, and the person coming into to contact with virus while it is viable and transmitting it into their body via their hands. Even though the likelihood is small, the following steps can be taken to reduce the risk even further to prevent infection from mail or a package:

• Leave the mail and cardboard package in your mailbox or at your door for a day or bring it inside and leave it right inside your door, then wash your hands again.
• If you need to open the mail or package right away or are still concerned there was any virus on the package, wipe down the exterior with a disinfectant, or open it outdoors and put the packaging in the recycling can, then wash your hands.
• If you are shopping for groceries, the same approach applies. Shop when you need to, keeping six feet from other customers, and load items into your cart. Keep your hands away from your face while shopping and wash them as soon as you get home. Put away your groceries, and then wash your hands again. Depending upon the type of package, wait the indicated time and use the product.
• If you need to use something immediately, and want to take extra precautions, wipe the package down with a disinfectant and wash your hands.
• As usual wash all fruits and vegetables as you normally would.

Taking basic precautions, including washing your hands frequently, will greatly reduce the danger from accepting a package from a delivery driver or from takeout from a local restaurant or from buying groceries.

SGIA will continue to follow this important and rapidly changing situation. For more information, please contact the SGIA Government Affairs Department at
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