Is Face Mask safe

Coronavirus Can Survive for More than a Week on Face Masks, Finds New Study

File photo: A kid wears a protective mask in wake of the deadly coronavirus outbreak in New Delhi(Piyal Bhattacharjee/TOI, Delhi, BCCL)

The novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 that causes COVID-19 can stay on the outer layer of face masks for up to one week, a new study has found. The research also examined how long the virus lasts on other commonly-touched objects such as bank notes, tissue papers, and clothes.

While several studies have examined the life of the novel coronavirus, formally referred to as SARS-CoV-2, on multiple surfaces, this new study—conducted by researchers from the University of Hong Kong (HKU) and published in medical journal The Lancet—adds several critical insights to our growing understanding of the virus’ stability.

In this analysis, researchers tested how long the coronavirus survives on various surfaces at room temperature. They found that the virus lasts on tissue papers and printing papers for less than three hours. Subsequently, on cloth (like a standard cotton lab jacket) and treated wood, it disappears by the second day. On bank notes and glass, it survived for two to four days, while on stainless steel and plastic, it remained for four to seven days.

However, as for the outer layer of a surgical face mask, the researchers “strikingly” found detectable levels of infectious coronavirus even after seven days!

“This is exactly why it is very important if you are wearing a surgical mask you don’t touch the outside of the mask, because you can contaminate your hands and if you touch your eyes you could be transferring the virus to your eyes,” Malik Peiris, a clinical and public health virologist, told the South China Morning Post.

It is important to note that the presence of the virus on these objects and surfaces was detected by laboratory tools, and not fingers and hands—as the case would normally be. Therefore, these results do “not necessarily reflect the potential to pick up the virus from casual contact”.

The study also observed that the concentration of the virus on all the studied surfaces reduced quite rapidly over time. Moreover, the virus died instantly when touched by common household disinfectants, including bleach.

Through the findings of this study, the existent precautions that need to be taken to avoid contracting COVID-19, especially during day-to-day lives, can be modified as well as improved, so as to slow-down the spread of the deadly virus.

The Union Ministry of Health in India has recently issued an advisory to use homemade reusable face masks, if one is not suffering from medical conditions or having breathing difficulties. The advisory also urges people to wash the masks after every use with soap and hot water.

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