Federally funded tests conducted by scientists from several major institutions indicated that the novel form of coronavirus behind a worldwide outbreak can survive in the air for several hours.
A study awaiting peer review from scientists at Princeton University, the University of California-Los Angeles and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) posted online Wednesday indicated that the COVID-19 virus could remain viable in the air “up to 3 hours post aerosolization,” while remaining alive on plastic and other surfaces for up to three days.
“Our results indicate that aerosol and fomite transmission of HCoV-19 is plausible, as the virus can remain viable in aerosols for multiple hours and on surfaces up to days,” reads the study’s abstract.
The test results suggest that humans could be infected by the disease simply carried through the air or on a solid surface, even if direct contact with an infected person does not occur. That finding, if accepted, would come in stark contrast to previous media reports that suggested the virus was not easily transmittable outside of direct human contact.
Confirmed cases of coronavirus infection have crossed 121,000 worldwide, with more than 4,300 deaths. The majority of deaths have occurred in mainland China, where the virus is thought to have originated, and Italy, which is experiencing its own large-scale outbreak.
The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic on Wednesday, with officials warning that they were “deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction” by world governments to prevent the disease from spreading.