As the coronavirus rapidly spread across the United States and around the world, it swept uncertainties and questions into our minds, too. News stories came out daily, all with changing information as scientists learned more about the virus. Soon, we discovered that the coronavirus could potentially live on surfaces for varying lengths of time, and people grew anxious about touching certain things and using particular items like reusable grocery bags. States like Connecticut, which typically levied a surcharge for plastic bags or enforced plastic bag bans, lifted those regulations during the pandemic in response — just in case reusable bags could transmit the virus and contaminate other surfaces. As it turns out, this decision was a smart one.
If you’re an eco-conscious shopper who frequently carries reusable bags, you may have some concerns about whether they’re safe to use as the pandemic continues. Learn more about the coronavirus and how it relates to shopping carefully, including the type of bags you should (and shouldn’t) shop with.
How Long Does COVID-19 Live on Surfaces?
This novel strain of coronavirus is caused by a virus scientists have labeled SARS-CoV-2. Like all individual strains of viruses, this one has particular qualities that distinguish it from other similar pathogens. This includes its lifespan.
To understand whether reusable grocery bags are safe to use during the pandemic, it’s important to know how long the coronavirus can survive on surfaces before it’s no longer infectious. If the virus can survive on different surfaces, those surfaces can potentially spread the virus once they become contaminated with it. In the case of the novel coronavirus, the type of material the surface is made from matters. Thus, the material your reusable grocery bag is made from is also important.
Researchers are learning more about the novel coronavirus regularly, and initially it was unknown how long the virus could survive on different surfaces. However, two studies, both published in peer-reviewed medical journals The Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine, found that SARS-CoV-2 was more viable and remained on plastic and stainless steel for around 72 hours. It also remained on clothing for up to two days, and this applies to canvas fabrics that some reusable bags are made from, too. Cardboard was one of the safest materials; SARS-CoV-2 was only viable on it for up to 24 hours.
The virus doesn’t survive as well on porous materials and seems to live better on smooth, even surfaces. Based on this, the reusable grocery bags made of strong plastic differ in potential transmissibility from those made of canvas.