Last night I was browsing Amazon, filling my cart with hand sanitizer and wet wipes. But before I clicked "Proceed to checkout" I was hit with a sobering thought: Could coronavirus cling to these boxes? I thought avoiding crowded stores in favour of online shopping was the safer option — but was I risking having the disease delivered right to my doorstep instead?
Coronavirus spreads via respiratory droplets that are produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. And it can cling to surfaces. Softer materials, such as fabric or carpeting, are less likely to pass on the virus than frequently-touched hard surfaces, including metal subway poles or elevator buttons, reports Harvard Health Publishing. But where do cardboard boxes rank?
"Although theoretically it's possible for coronavirus to get onto a package at the source of delivery, it's virtually impossible [for the virus to survive] due to the package going through harsh conditions in transit," says Darshan Shah, MD, founder and Medical Director at Next Health. "Mechanical, temperature, and humidity changes would likely kill the virus before it arrives at your doorstep."
The same applies to whatever is inside the shipping box. If the person who packed up your order was sick, there could be traces of the virus on the item itself. But Dr. Shah reiterates that the virus can only live for a few days on surfaces, and it's very likely to be killed during transportation. (Maybe a reason to opt for regular shipping over Prime Now, for once?)
Another risk is your delivery person. If they're carrying COVID-19, you could potentially pick it up from them, says Dr. Shah. "If they have the virus, and there are droplets transmitted to the package, it is theoretically possible to get the virus since it can live on surfaces for up to nine days," he explains. It's a similar issue to the one people are facing with ordering in meals, and why many food delivery services are changing their policies.
In the U.S., at least one United States Postal Service worker from Seattle has tested positive for coronavirus, reports the Washington Examiner. According to the Federal News Network, late last week the USPS released a memo outlining their coronavirus policy, which including a section urging employees to stay home if they feel sick.
If you're paranoid about contracting COVID-19 via your online shopping addiction, there are precautions you can take to minimize your risk even more, says Dr. Shah. Disinfect the parcel with an alcohol-based wipe before handling it, minimize your contact with the packaging, and wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water (or with hand sanitizer) after opening and discarding the boxes.
Even though the risk is small, you can also limit what you order online; fewer packages coming in means fewer anxiety-ridden moments about how to handle them.