What You Need to Know About Cleaning and COVID-19

Our inbox has never filled up so quickly...

Since we started our coverage of the coronavirus pandemic, we've received hundreds of questions from our subscribers.

One that stood out was from many folks asking about cleaning. Their question was: Just what do you have to do to clean your groceries or deliveries?

This comes as we've seen videos about cleaning make the rounds here in the office (or rather, our virtual online office). They include doctors advising that we leave our groceries outside for hours or days. And some email chains suggest we leave them all out in the sunlight.

Not only is most of this overkill, but it's also dangerous.

I want you to read and share this issue this week especially. Earlier, White House officials urged folks to avoid even trips to the grocery store this week and next. They fear we're reaching the peak of infections. So whenever possible, have food and necessities delivered to you instead.

Because of that, I want to break down what we know so far about how long the virus lives on surfaces and discuss some practical steps to take. I want you to understand what the risks are and how to take appropriate actions that are best for you and your family.

Most of the cleaning frenzy headlines draw on one source: A piece published in the New England Journal of Medicine showing how long the new virus, COVID-19, survives on different surfaces. Unfortunately, we've seen plenty of news articles covering this paper... but failing to fact-check it. That's why my team read it.

The study included both the COVID-19 virus as well as its cousin virus, SARS. They tested the viruses on different surfaces in a laboratory setting. What's really key here is that they measured how long the virus remained viable. In other words, how long it remained able to spread and infect us.

Here's what they found for the COVID-19 virus lasting on different surfaces:

  • Aerosols (like sneezing or coughing): 3 hours
  • Copper: 4 hours
  • Cardboard: 24 hours
  • Plastic and stainless steel: 72 hours

Given these results, anything you either get at the store or have delivered to you could potentially carry the virus. There are three good rules of thumb my team follows:

  1. Unpack on your porch or an area that's secluded and easy to clean.
  2. Use a disinfectant spray or wipe to clean off boxes, containers, and cans before bringing them inside and putting them away.
  3. Always wash your hands after handling any groceries or deliveries.

Remember, I said could carry the virus. According to several reports we've read, the likelihood of you catching the virus from things like grocery deliveries is very low. That's because there might only be traces of the virus on the goods and with proper hand washing, you're pretty safe.

Now, I know what you're thinking: What about that cruise ship? It's true, we did write about a cruise ship where COVID-19 virus still appeared on surfaces after 17 days.

Here's the problem... This report only showed parts of the virus – in this case, the ribonucleic acid (RNA) with all the genetic coding – still lingered on some surfaces of the cruise ship. That does not mean the virus was still viable. It also doesn't mean it was still in one piece. It could have broken down, and the test only managed to pick up the debris of the RNA.

Finally, you should still follow these rules if you go to the store. I can't say it loud enough: Don't go unless it's absolutely essential. If so, then only send one member of your family.

If you qualify, go during the seniors' only hours. Wear a mask and gloves and wipe down your cart before shopping. Stay six feet away from folks, and don't forget to wash your hands when you get home. Follow the rules above for wiping things down before bringing them inside, too.

Don't pay attention to all the hyped-up media. Much of the advice you see means well and stems from folks trying to take back some amount of control in their lives. I would urge you to use some common sense, take the practical steps I outlined, and try not to let anxiety consume you.

Editor's note: Our offices are closed for Good Friday tomorrow. Expect your next Health & Wealth Bulletin issue on Monday, April 13.

What We're Reading...

Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
April 9, 2020