Specialists in protective suits disinfect Beylerbeyi Palace in Istanbul, Turkey. Photo: Erhan Elaldi/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The novel coronavirus stays viable in the air for several hours and can last on surfaces from hours to days, depending on the material, according to a study published Tuesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

What's new: Researchers said the virus that causes COVID-19 remains infectious in the air for up to three hours, on copper for up to four hours, on cardboard for up to 24 hours, and on plastic and stainless steel for up to three days.

Background: The study compared the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, with the genetically close virus that caused the SARS outbreak in 2002–2003, or SARS-CoV-1.

  • SARS emerged from China, infecting more than 8,000 people in 2002 and 2003.
  • SARS-CoV-1 was "eradicated by intensive contact tracing and case isolation measures and no cases have been detected since 2004," according to a National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases press release accompanying the study.
  • The researchers were from the NIAID, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UCLA and Princeton University.

What they found: The two viruses "behaved similarly, which unfortunately fails to explain why COVID-19 has become a much larger outbreak," per NIAID.

  • The key difference between the two coronaviruses could be that people are spreading the disease before showing symptoms.
  • Plus, most COVID-19 infections are happening in the community rather than in the health care setting, where SARS was mostly reported. However, NIAID warned that with the virus' stability in air and on surfaces, health care settings are also vulnerable.

What's next: Follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advice on how to protect yourself and use these EPA-registered disinfectant products that work against SARS-CoV-2.

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