It is critical to support small businesses during the growing COVID-19 crisis, but can you catch the coronavirus from a package being delivered? Here is what the WHO, CDC, NHS, and other experts say.
Here is what the experts say about how long the coronavirus can survive on cardboard, whether it is safe to receive a package and how to protect yourself:
How long can the coronavirus live on a package?
A study by U.S. researchers from the National Institutes of Health, CDC, UCLA and Princeton University published in March 2020 in the New England Journal of Medicine indicates that the virus can be detected for up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to three days on plastic.
WHO says the likelihood of catching the virus from a package is low; “yes” it’s safe to receive a package.
The the World Health Organization’s (WHO) March 9 Q&A on coronaviruses (COVID-19) asks, “Is it safe to receive a package from any area where COVID-19 has been reported?”
The WHO’s answer is: “Yes.”
The WHO goes on to explain that:
the likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low and the risk of catching the virus that causes COVID-19 from a package that has been moved, travelled, and exposed to different conditions and temperature is also low.
CDC says there is “no evidence” of COVID-19 transmission from imported goods.
The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains in its Frequently Asked Questions on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) that, “there is still a lot that is unknown about the newly emerged COVID-19 and how it spreads, ” but that, “while we don’t know for sure that this virus will behave the same way as SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, we can use the information gained from both of these earlier coronaviruses to guide us.”
The CDC concludes that,
In general, because of poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely very low risk of spread from products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient temperatures. Coronaviruses are generally thought to be spread most often by respiratory droplets. Currently there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with imported goods and there have not been any cases of COVID-19 in the United States associated with imported goods.
The CDC suggests staying tuned, as additional “information will be provided on the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) website as it becomes available.”
UK NHS notes it is “very unlikely.”
In its coronavirus update, the UK National Health Service (NHS) indicates that:
It’s very unlikely it can be spread through things like packages or food.
Dr. Fauci: You can sort of immobilize yourself.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said at a March 12 CNN town hall that
Even if it is on there, would it be high enough of a concentration to actually be transmitted? Although it is important, I don’t want to downplay the recommendations of wiping down the kinds of things you can easily wipe down. Doorknobs, screens, things like that. I think if you start thinking about money and mail and things like that, you can almost sort of immobilize yourself, which I don’t think is a good idea.
USPS highlights WHO, Surgeon General and CDC Guidance.
The United States Postal Service (USPS) released a March 17 statement on the coronavirus, noting that:
The CDC, the World Health Organization, and the Surgeon General have indicated that there is currently no evidence that COVID-19 is being spread through the mail.
USPS frequently-asked questions (FAQs) also state that —
Current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) guidance continues to indicate there is no evidence the virus is spreading through the mail. According to WHO, the likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low, and the risk of catching the virus from a package that has been moved, traveled, and exposed to different conditions and temperatures is also low. This guidance remains true for mail transport equipment.
Also, in case you’re concerned, the mail is still being delivered during the coronavirus outbreak, though lawmakers warn that the agency could come under pressure as soon as this summer without help.
“No evidence from any previous outbreak,” says expert Elizabeth McGraw.
Elizabeth McGraw, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics at Pennsylvania State University told NPR that:
There is no evidence from any previous outbreak that anyone has ever gotten infected from a package…What we know about these viruses is that they don’t last very long on surfaces, and that’s particularly the case for a very porous surface [like cardboard].
How to take “maximum precautions” to protect yourself
If you are worried about potentially coming into contact with COVID19 on a package, here are steps you can take to protect yourself:
Leave packages outside for at least 24 hours and clean packages, surfaces and your hands
During the NBC Nightly News March 19 broadcast, in an interview with Lester Holt (at minute 18:23 in the Youtube video below), Science Contributor Dr. Joseph Fair advised that:
“Absolutely we should worry about them being contaminated… If you’re talking about boxes, like from Amazon, we know that 24 hours it can last on a cardboard surface, so at least leave it outside for 24 hours if you can. If not, just use maximum precautions once you open it using rubber gloves. Cut that box open, take your goods out, take your gloves off, wash your hands again and immediately dispose of the box.
Dr. VanWingen, a practicing family physician in Grand Rapids, MI, has posted a widely-viewed video that suggests how to wipe down packages and surfaces after grocery shopping, and his methods could be useful for packages as well:
Stay At Home, Support Small Business
There is a lot of uncertainty and fear percolating about whether you can get the coronavirus from a package being delivered to your house, which could further damage the prospects of small businesses who need support to stay in business.
While restaurants are hurting badly from forced closures from New York to DC to San Francisco, there are scores of direct-to-consumer menswear brands, women’s style startups, online eyeglass innovators, and home and lifestyle brands who will need consumers to keep receiving packages at home to survive this crisis.
Entrepreneurs that I have gotten to know over the years are sending out messages of hope and solidarity. The founders of Beckett Simonon, one of my favorite destinations for men’s dress shoes and leather sneakers, told their community that “we need to watch out for one another,” and are donating a portion of their sales to Feeding America.
But direct-to-consumer small businesses are in danger of suffering as this crisis gets worse.
Derek Tian, co-founder of Black Lapel, an amazing New York-based online custom clothing retailer, said that he expects to see “significant headwinds” for his business for the remainder of 2020. Under a worst case scenario, that could involve shuttering the entire business.
What is your policy on receiving packages in the face of the coronavirus?
Do you feel comfortable receiving packages at home? What is your strategy? Leave a comment below.
Photo credit: Photo by Bench Accounting on Unsplash
About JakeJake is passionate about exploring entrepreneurs' global journeys. He founded Modern Fellows in 2012 to get to know the entrepreneurs behind the innovative brands helping men dress sharp in the digital age. Jake has written about entrepreneurship, international business and/or fashion for outlets including Business Week, Forbes, Inc., Details Style Syndicate and Primer Magazine, and has provided analysis on international business for BBC Radio, NBC News, CNN and Time Magazine.
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