Whether you’re shopping for PC upgrades or the latest tech deals, working from home or are just avoiding the outside, chances are you’ll have to check your mail. With the pandemic that is COVID-19, you may wondering if packages sent from Amazon, Newegg, around the world or even within the U.S. could carry infectious germs with them.
We’ve seen Reddit users question if shipments from China could pack more than shoppers asked for, and even companies themselves are trying to address this. There’s also been a recent wave of emails from retailers detailing precautions they’re taking regarding coronavirus, while encouraging people to shop while stuck at home. But is this really a good idea?
According to Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, Senior Scholar, Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, there's no reason to worry about packages shipped from China or anywhere else outside of the U.S.
“The temperature of the air surrounding the packages and projects during shipping is not considered conducive to viral viability,” he told Tom’s Hardware.
Even if you have a package shipped overnight or domestically experts believe you have nothing to worry about.
“I suspect that even with overnight shipping, the transit conditions are not conducive to the virus remaining viable, given that it takes a special combination of environmental conditions for a virus to remain viable (lack of UV exposure, specific temperatures, specific humidity, et cetera) that is not readily achieved in shipping,” Adalja explained. “Overnight packages are not how this virus will transmit, and I think the concern is completely misplaced.”
Recent research reported on by MIT Technology Review found that 2019-nCov can live on a cardboard box for at least 24 hours. The researchers, Vincent Munster and a team at the National Institutes of Health virology laboratory in Hamilton, Montana, sprayed the virus on common materials to see how long the surface remained contaminated. “After waiting a few hours or days, they wiped the surfaces and checked to see if they could still infect cells in a petri dish,” MIT Technology Review reported.
The publication specifically mentioned Amazon packages and “plastic cell phone cases” as being areas to which 2019-nCov could “cling.” However, it noted that we still need more studies before we fully understand how COVID-19 spreads. There’s no proof that it can spread through inanimate objects.
This message is echoed by the CDC, which is using the behaviors of SARS and MERA, two other types of coronavirus, as guidance for 2019-nCoV.
“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,” the CDC’s FAQ page says.
“Coronaviruses are generally thought to be spread most often by respiratory droplets. Currently there is no evidence to support transmission of 2019-nCoV associated with imported goods, and there have not been any cases of 2019-nCoV in the United States associated with imported goods,” the CDC writes.
Other surfaces tested by Munster and his researchers include stainless steel and plastic, which both were contaminated after three days with the possibility remaining that it could last on those two surfaces for even longer.
SARS, MERS and HCoV, a third type of coronavirus, have been shown to live on “inanimate surfaces, including metal, glass and plastic, for as many as nine days but can be disinfected within one minute,” as detailed in The Journal of Hospital Infection and reported on by Forbes.
Disinfecting inanimate surfaces seems simple. The WHO says disinfection is as easy as “thoroughly cleaning environmental surfaces with water and detergent and applying commonly used hospital-level disinfectants, (such as sodium hypochlorite).” And, again, that process can take just 60 seconds. The Journal of Hospital Infection researchers said that they “expect a similar effect against the 2019-nCoV.”
Even with the amount of uncertainty related to 2019-nCoV, Adalja asserted that there is no reason to hold off on shopping, even if you think you're just being extra cautious.
“There is much damage being done by overreaction to this outbreak. We know a lot about coronaviruses in general and can extrapolate this knowledge to the novel coronavirus,” he said.
Editor's note: A version of this article was originally published on February 12, 2020 and updated on March 16, 2020 with new research.