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Can I Get Coronavirus from a Box or Package I Order Online?

Jake Rheude

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Short Answer: You are very unlikely to get coronavirus from a box or package you order online.

COVID-19 has spread across the globe with alarming speed. In this rapidly-evolving situation, it can be hard to know how to keep your family and your community safe.

The coronavirus pandemic has put a strain on supply chains, the stock market, and the economy. People need to stock up on groceries and other supplies. However, it can be hard to do that while maintaining the 6 feet of social distancing recommended by the CDC. Many people have turned to online shopping instead.

This moment will test whether eCommerce can expand rapidly enough to fill the gaps left when brick-and-mortar stores are forced to close to prevent disease transmission. However, online deliveries mean that you will touch a package that several sets of hands have touched in the process of picking, packing, and shipping. The virus can stay viable on surfaces. So, can you get coronavirus from a box or package that you order online? 

You’re not the only one with this question. Fortunately, scientists are busy looking for the answers. Already, some good information has begun to emerge. Read on to learn how you can keep from getting coronavirus from a box or package delivered to your door.

How Does the Coronavirus Spread?

According to the CDC, the primary way the virus spreads is in person. If you stand near someone with COVID-19, you are likely to come into contact with the virus. When someone who has the coronavirus coughs or sneezes, this expels tiny droplets of fluid that contain the virus. The closer your contact with an infected person, the greater the chance that the virus will get into your throat, nose, or lungs and make you sick.

Herd immunity COVID-19

One of the dangers of this new strain of coronavirus is that none of us have been exposed to it in the past, so we aren’t protected by herd immunity. However, your immune system is still a powerful disease fighter. The more you reduce your exposure to the virus, the more you reduce your chances of becoming sick.

So, if a member of your family gets COVID-19, it may be hard for you to keep from getting sick yourself. Because this disease is very contagious, even casual contact with an infected individual can spread it. But what about the surfaces that person touched or sneezed on? 

How long does the virus live on surfaces?

When someone coughs or sneezes, the expel tiny drops of fluid. If these fluid droplets land on a surface, the virus remains viable, at least initially. If you touch that surface with your bare hand and then touch your face, you could, in theory, catch the coronavirus. 

WIRED reported on studies that showed the coronavirus can live anywhere from 24 hours to three days on surfaces. However, these were time frames observed under laboratory conditions. In the real world, viruses can be degraded or dispersed by environmental and other factors. The virus lives the longest on hard surfaces. In the study, it was the least viable on cardboard, where it only lasted for 24 hours.

A recent Washington Post op-ed by an assistant professor of exposure and assessment science at Harvard gave some context to this study. The author pointed out that the study found the virus is detectable over time on surfaces. However, the amount of virus on a surface actually decreased quickly. He concluded that the risk of catching the virus from a package is quite low.

It is worth noting that the CDC also says you have only a small chance of contracting the coronavirus from touching a surface. The virus becomes progressively less viable the longer it’s outside a host (an infected human or animal). So even a contaminated surface becomes less infectious over time.

In addition, many businesses have increased their cleaning and sanitation schedule to clear surfaces of potential viral contamination. Add to that the increased hand washing that we have all been instructed to do and coughing into a tissue or elbow. With these precautions in place, the risk from surface contamination is minor, though not zero.

Bottom line: You are very unlikely to get coronavirus from a box or package you order online.

The Importance of ECommerce in a Pandemic

Instacart and other food and grocery delivery apps have seen a huge increase in their business. Amazon is trying to hire 100,000 new workers to meet increased demand. This is a moment for eCommerce to shine.

Right now, online shopping is a lifeline for necessary supplies, including food, medicines, protective clothing, and disinfectants. In addition, restaurant deliveries are vital to those who aren’t able to cook for themselves.

But eCommerce can provide much more than that. As millions of Americans are stuck at home, one activity we can do from our couches is shop. Shopping is a favorite pastime in the US. Plus, online shopping can give the economy a much-needed boost and keep businesses afloat. 

In addition, there are many products that people need to buy online beyond necessities. Children still need games and toys to keep them occupied while they are out of school. We need to buy birthday gifts for loved ones. Some people may take this opportunity to complete home repair projects. They can order the materials they need online.

If you want to boost the flagging economy and support small businesses during this time of crisis, consider placing an order online. You can find many small businesses on all the major sales platforms. Don’t forget the artisans who will suffer when craft fairs and festivals are canceled. Consider shopping on Etsy to support them.

How to Ensure You Don’t Get Coronavirus from a Box or Package

Although the chance of getting coronavirus from a box or package is small, it doesn’t hurt to take precautions. It’s wise to be extra careful, particularly if you are in a high-risk group. Those most at risk of getting seriously ill from COVID-19 are people over 60 and those with pre-existing health conditions.

Here are some simple steps to make sure you don’t get coronavirus from a box or package delivered to your door:

  • If you can, leave the package on your doorstep for 24 hours. That will ensure that the virus viability window has passed before you bring it inside. However, with the prevalence of porch pirates, this is a risky strategy.
  • Use gloves when you handle the packaging. Put the box in an outside recycling bin immediately while still wearing the gloves. 
  • Disinfect the box. Use disinfectant wipes to wipe down the outside of the box. You can also wipe down the products inside, if you want to be extra careful. If you don’t have disinfectant wipes, you can create your own disinfectant solution. Mix 4 teaspoons of disinfectant bleach with 1 quart of water. Then spray it on or wipe it on with a paper towel. 
  • Don’t touch your face, but do wash your hands. The simplest way to increase your safety when you handle a box or package during the coronavirus outbreak is hand washing. Wash your hands after you handle the box. Make sure you don’t touch the box and then touch your face before you wash your hands.

Tips for Staying Safe from COVID-19

At Red Stag Fulfillment, we take the health and safety of our eCommerce community seriously. This is a challenging time but we know we can get through it by sticking together and caring for each other.

  • Don’t go out to crowded places. If the bars are still open in your town, be part of the solution and stay home. Consider buying gift certificates to help support your favorite local bars and restaurants instead.
  • Do socially distance yourself. Stay at least 6 feet away from people who aren’t in your immediate family. This not only protects you from getting infected; it also protects vulnerable people who might be infected by you.
  • Don’t go visit your elderly relatives. This is a great time to teach your older friends and relatives how to do video chat.
  • Do order items you need and want online. Online shopping from your own home is one of the safest things you can do right now. It’s a great way to take care of yourself. Plus, online shopping keeps the economy humming and that’s good for all of us.
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