Coronavirus can live on surfaces for days. But it can't travel through the mail, experts say

N'dea Yancey-Bragg, USA TODAY

With stores stripped bare of household essentials, retailers cutting back hours and experts calling for social distancing amid the spread of coronavirus, many people may rely on delivery services to get what they need.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Tuesday found that coronavirus could be detected up to three hours after aerosolization in the air, up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel.

This had led some to wonder whether those packages on their front porch could spread coronavirus. The answer seems to be no. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that the virus is spread through respiratory droplets and there is currently no evidence to support the transmission of COVID-19 with imported goods.

"In general, because of poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely very low risk of spread from products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient temperatures," the CDC said on its website.

The World Health Organization offered similar guidance saying it is safe to receive packages from any area.

"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, travelled, and exposed to different conditions and temperature is also low," the WHO said in a Q&A about the virus.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during a CNN coronavirus town hall that if the disease were to transfer onto something like mail, it would likely be a low concentration.

Here's what you need to know about sending mail during the coronavirus pandemic:

Coronavirus myths, debunked: A cattle vaccine, bioweapons and a $3,000 test

Should I disinfect my mail?

Joseph Vinetz, a professor of medicine at Yale and infectious disease researcher, said that wiping down mail may help with some people's anxiety, but there's no evidence that doing so would be useful to protect against coronavirus.

"That’s just not a viable way of thinking about this epidemic nor am I taking any special precautions myself personally or for family or my friends based on packages," he said. "Whether it’s a package that comes in the mail delivered by Amazon or a letter from the USPS it's no different than going to the grocery store or going to get take out food."

Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, agreed that the risk is theoretical and minimal.

"I will never disinfect my mail," he said. "And I don’t even know how you would disinfect your mail."

Trying to order groceries online?: Here are some tips to do it successfully amid coronavirus

What if my postal worker has coronavirus?

Adalja said there's minimal risk of the virus living on a package for several days, but if someone were to sneeze or cough on a letter before putting it into your mailbox "that's a different story."

Still, he said the same best practices that work during flu season like washing your hands and not touching your face after you open your mail would solve this problem.

How are postal services dealing with coronavirus?

A spokesperson for USPS, which employs more than 630,000 people, said 13 of its employees have tested positive for COVID-19. The company is closely monitoring the situation and is following strategies recommended by the CDC, according to the statement.

FedEx has advised employees who are have flulike symptoms to stay home, and is temporarily suspending signature requirements and regularly disinfecting the equipment used to make deliveries. 

Amazon said it is offering flexibility for employees who need to stay home and paid time off for those who are diagnosed with coronavirus. Prime Now, Amazon Fresh, and Whole Foods Market delivery customers also have the option of "unattended delivery"  if they want to limit into contact with others.

UPS said in a statement Monday that it is temporarily modifying the procedures its drivers use for residential and business deliveries. In order to minimize contact with recipients, UPS drivers will validate and record the name of the recipient of the package instead of obtaining a signature. If an adult signature is requested by a shipper, recipients must present identification with proof of age to the driver.

Online shopping?: Amazon prioritizing shipments for medical supplies, household staples during coronavirus crisis

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Can coronavirus travel though the mail? Experts say no