The good news about the coronavirus is that it's a virus. That means it needs to be inside another living cell to reproduce. But that doesn't mean it can't survive outside a cell. Different viruses can survive for different times depending on whether they're in the air or on different types of surfaces. To provide some clarity to a nervous public, researchers have published data with estimates on how long the coronavirus can survive in the air and on different surfaces.
The study, Aerosol and Surface Stability of SARS-CoV-2 as Compared with SARS-CoV-1 published in The New England Journal Of Medicine, looked at how long the SARS-CoV-2 virus, what we colloquially call coronavirus or COVID-19, can potentially survive in different conditions.
The focus of the experiment was with surfaces you're likely to encounter in your day-to-day life rather than an interesting but kinda useless petri dish experiment.
Here's what they found:
In the air: The researchers found the virus remained viable in air for at least three hours. Their experiment ran for that time and there was still living virus after that time.
Stainless steelThe half-life of SARS-CoV-2, which is the time it takes for half of the sample they put on the surface to die, was approximately 5.6 hours with viable virus found 48 hours after application to the surface.
Plastics The half-life of SARS-CoV-2, the current coronavirus, was approximately 6.8 hours with viable virus found 72 hours after application to the surface.
CopperNo viable SARS-CoV-2 was measured after 4 hours.
Cardboard: No viable SARS-CoV-2 was measured after 24 hours.
According to the researchers, who were comparing this virus, SARS-CoV-2, with the virus, SARS-CoV-1, that caused the SARS epidemic in 2002 and 2003:
Our results indicate that aerosol and fomite [materials] transmission of SARS-CoV-2 is plausible, since the virus can remain viable and infectious in aerosols for hours and on surfaces up to days.
This is why cleaning surfaces with disinfectant regularly is important.