A viral WhatsApp forward that includes a link to a news article by CNBC, makes misleading claims about how long the novel Coronavirus can survive in the air and on other surfaces.Multiple readers sent the below message to BOOM's WhatsApp helpline (7700906111) asking us to fact check the same.
The COVID-19 disease was declared a pandemic by the WHO. The outbreak has affected more than 188 countries and territories, with more than 300,000 case worldwide and 13,600 deaths. It is believed to spread by close contact with an infected person, and through infected droplets by sneezing and coughing. International and regional health agency have recommended self-isolation and quarantines to help inhibit its spread.
The CNBC story can be read here.
The WhatsApp message uses a common misinformation tactic - where a genuine news article is shared with bogus text to make it believable and credible.
The message is misleading because it makes false assertions that the article does not make.
CNBC's article spoke about how the World Health Organisation is considering 'airborne precautions' for its medical staff after a study showed the Coronavirus can survive in the air.
The article includes quotes from Robert Redfield, director of the United Stated Centres for Disease Control and Prevention telling the US Congress that the agency is evaluating for how long the virus that causes COVID-19 survives, especially on different surfaces.
What WHO Says
The WHO says it cannot say for sure but says that the virus can survive for a few hours to several days on surfaces, depending on the surface, temperature and humidity.
"It is not certain how long the virus that causes COVID-19 survives on surfaces, but it seems to behave like other coronaviruses. Studies suggest that coronaviruses (including preliminary information on the COVID-19 virus) may persist on surfaces for a few hours or up to several days. This may vary under different conditions (e.g. type of surface, temperature or humidity of the environment)." - WHO This can be read here.
The same page also clarifies that the viruses causing COVID-19 primarily spreads through contact with droplets produced respiratory droplets than by air. "Studies to date suggest that the virus that causes COVID-19 is mainly transmitted through contact with respiratory droplets rather than through the air", it states.
BOOM also looked at two available studies in the field that focus on the survivability of coronaviruses on surfaces. The first was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, that compares the aerosol and surface stability of SARS-CoV-2 -- the current coronavirus -- to SARS-CoV-1, the most closely related human coronavirus. The second study is by two German universities in the Journal of Hospital Infections (JHI), who analysed 22 studies to examine the survivability of coronaviruses on surfaces like metal, plastic, paper and steel. It does not include SARS-CoV-2
BOOM also breaks down how the viral WhatsApp message is misleading:
Claim 1. COVID-19 survives in air for 8 hours
False. CNBC's story does not make this claim.
Although the Coronavirus can survive in the air and is airborne, it does not last up to 8 hours.
Further, the NEJM study found that the SARS-CoV2 can survive in the air for up to three hours. The study also states that it can spread through air, by touching a contaminated surface and by person-to-person contact. The study, titled 'Aerosol and Surface Stability of SARS-CoV-2 as Compared with SARS-CoV-1' used a nebuliser to recreate the effect of a cough.
2. COVID-19 survives on copper and steel for two hours
The NEJM study states that on copper, no SARS-CoV-2 was measured after 4 hours, and it remained for up to 2 to 3 days on stainless steel.
The second study published in the JHI states that the survivability of coronaviruses to be 5 days for metals and of 2 days to more than 28 days for steel.
The CNBC story quoted Redfield at a House of Representatives hearing stating, "On copper and steel, it's pretty typical, it's pretty much about two hours".
3. The virus survives on paper and plastic for 3-4 hours
The NEJM study puts the viability of COVID-19 at 24 hours on cardboard (not paper) and up to 2 to 3 days on plastic.
The JHI study puts the survivability of coronavirus on paper from 2 hours to 28 days, and the survivability on plastic between 2 to 5 days.
The CNBC story does make a mention of Redfield stating paper and plastic, but again, there is no time frame of the virus' viability for these surfaces. According to the story, he told the House, "...I will say on other surfaces — cardboard or plastic — it's longer, and so we are looking at this."
Editor's Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the World Health Organisation said the virus can survive in the air for a few hours. WHO's statement was only about the virus surviving on surfaces. The error is regretted.
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