Should you sanitize your mail and packages during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Perhaps you’ve been diligent about keeping your place clean in the wake of COVID-19, better known as the coronavirus. You’re scrubbing every surface, washing your hands until they’re dry and cracked, and banning any visitors from bringing the virus into your house. It’s hard to keep the outside world entirely outside, however: You’ll likely still get mail and packages, and you may be wondering whether you should sanitize them, and if so, how.

What we know about how COVID-19 spreads

Researchers are still learning more about how the coronavirus functions, but there are some things they’re confident about. First, the method of transmission. According to the World Health Organization, “the disease can spread from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth, which are spread when a person with COVID-19 coughs or exhales. These droplets land on objects and surfaces around the person. Other people then catch COVID-19 by touching these objects or surfaces, then touching their eyes, nose, or mouth.”

In order for your mail to get contaminated, it would have to be exposed to droplets from an infected person. If that happens, how long could your mail carry the virus?

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in March examined how long the virus can survive on various surfaces. The study found that the coronavirus “was more stable on plastic and stainless steel than on copper and cardboard, and viable virus was detected up to 72 hours after application to these surfaces, although the virus titer [quantity] was greatly reduced … On cardboard, no viable SARS-CoV-2 was measured after 24 hours.”

So, should you be worried about your mail?

Given that the virus seems to last no more than 24 hours on cardboard, how dangerous are packages? Not very, say authorities.

“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, traveled, and exposed to different conditions and temperature is also low,” according to the WHO.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention takes the same view, saying that “although the virus can survive for a short period on some surfaces, it is unlikely to be spread from products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient temperatures.”

If you’re still worried about your mail, what should you do?

The most important thing is to avoid touching your face and wash your hands after handling your mail. If you’re feeling extra cautious, you could give envelopes and packages a wipe-down with a sanitizing wipe.

For the latest updates on the novel coronavirus outbreak, visit the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 page.

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