How Does Coronavirus Spread?

With cases of the new coronavirus reported in few states, health officials are focused on slowing the spread. By understanding how coronavirus spreads, you can take the right steps so you don’t get sick and infect others.

Person-to-Person Transmission

Experts believe the virus that causes COVID-19 spreads mainly from person to person. There are several ways this can happen:

  • Droplets. When an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks, droplets with the virus fly into the air from their nose or mouth. Anyone who is within 6 feet of that person can breathe those droplets into their lungs.
  • Airborne transmission. Research shows that the virus can live in the air for up to 3 hours. When you breathe air that has the virus floating in it, it gets into your lungs.
  • Fecal-oral. Studies also suggest that virus particles can be found in infected people’s poop. But experts aren’t sure whether the infection can spread through contact with an infected person’s stools. If that person uses the bathroom and doesn’t wash their hands, they could infect things and people that they touch.
  • Surface transmission. Another way to catch the new coronavirus is when you touch surfaces that someone who has the virus has coughed or sneezed on. You may touch a countertop or doorknob that’s contaminated and then touch your nose, mouth, or eyes. The virus can live on surfaces like plastic and stainless steel for 2 to 3 days. To stop it, clean and disinfect all counters, knobs, and other surfaces you and your family touch several times a day.

The virus most often spreads through people who have symptoms. But it may be possible to pass it on without showing any signs. Some people who don’t know they’ve been infected can give it to others. This is called asymptomatic spread.

How Easy Is It to Get Infected?

Early studies have found that even though it can cause serious illness, the coronavirus doesn’t spread as easily as some other germs. On average, every person who has COVID-19 will pass it on to 2 or 2.5 others. By comparison, someone who has the flu will probably give it to an average of 1.1 to 2.3 others. But one person with measles might spread it to 12 to 18 others.

Can I Get Infected From Delivery Food, Packages, or Groceries?

It’s highly unlikely that you’ll catch COVID-19 from packages, groceries, or food. The important thing is to limit your contact with other people. If you do your own shopping, try to keep at least 6 feet away from others in the store. That might not be possible all the time, so wear a cloth mask, too. If you use a delivery service, have them leave groceries, food, or packages outside your front door if you can.

Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds before and after bringing things into your home. If you want, you can wipe down plastic, metal, or glass packaging with soap and water. Then clean and disinfect countertops and anything else you or your bags have touched.

How to Protect Yourself

The best way to slow the spread is with social distancing. There are a few ways to do this:

  • Work from home if you can.
  • Don’t travel by plane or train.
  • Visit with family and friends by phone and computer instead of in person.
  • If you must go out, stand at least 6 feet away from people.
  • Wash your hands often.
  • Do your shopping, especially for groceries or drugstore items, online if possible. If you have to shop in person, keep a 6-foot distance between yourself and others.