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Clean your phones, ya filthy animals! Coronavirus can cling for days

The massive tech and music conference South by Southwest (SXSW) is canceled. Italy has locked down 16 million people. Supermarkets are gutted, and lines are finally forming outside men’s restrooms because, apparently, no man on this planet was ever taught that he has to wash his hands after using a toilet.

So now people are performatively humming happy birthday — twice — while they lather up, squirting hand sanitizer that they bought for $200 on eBay into their hands, getting themselves nice and disinfected, and then immediately picking up their filthy, bacteria-covered phones and going about their days.

Hey, did you know that there are germs on your phones? Approximately 10 times more than on the average toilet seat? Fun facts!

So yes, while you’re stealing all the toilet paper from work and wiping down the armrests on your plane seat, you might think about including your phone in your hygiene routine. Don’t worry: Apple has confirmed that you can, in fact, use disinfectant wipes to clean your iPhone.

According to Dr. Shuhan He, an emergency doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital, coronavirus can, in fact, survive for between two hours and six days on surfaces like metal, glass or plastic. Glass averages about five days.

chart with relative times germs can survive on various surfaces
Chart showing how long COVID-19 can survive on various surfaces at 70ºF (21ºC)/Courtesy of Dr. Shuhan He Image used with permission by copyright holder

“There are actually pretty good studies about this,” the doctor wrote in an email to Digital Trends. “Obviously, it does always vary depending on the type of surface, the amount of virus, and the temperature.”

Higher temperatures will likely reduce the length the virus can survive, which might be why warm and humid countries have not seen much spread of the virus, he wrote.

The good news is there have so far been no recorded cases of coronavirus transmission from surface-to-person contact, said Dr. Jonas Nilsen, the co-founder of the travel vaccination service Practio. The Centers for Disease Control corroborates this; right now it’s thought that the virus mostly spreads through respiratory droplets, Dr. Nilsen said.

“The most important thing at this point is to maintain good personal hygiene and follow official prevention advice,” he wrote to Digital Trends. That includes cleaning frequently touched surfaces with household cleaning products and disinfectants.

“We still don’t know how long the COVID-19 virus can survive on surfaces, but if you are regularly cleaning your hands and not putting your hands to your face or eating before washing them, there shouldn’t be any need to extensively clean surfaces before using them,” added Dr. Diana Gall of Doctor4U, in an email to Digital Trends. “Though if you are worried, or you don’t know where it has been, it could be a good idea.”

The other good news is it’s fairly easy to kill the virus if you clean your beloved inanimate objects properly and regularly. “The studies all show that 62% to 71% ethanol, 0.5% hydrogen peroxide, or 0.1% sodium hypochlorite will clear the virus within 1 minute,” Dr. He wrote.

Overall, the advice was to be vigilant and smart, but don’t overdo it. Follow travel (or do-not-travel) advice, don’t shake hands, and be cautious around the elderly and infirm. “I think it’s sort of a losing game to try to clean everything around us while this pandemic is occurring, as it’s quite difficult to avoid every surface when you go out,” Dr. He said.

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Maya Shwayder
I'm a multimedia journalist currently based in New England. I previously worked for DW News/Deutsche Welle as an anchor and…
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