Moncada: How long does the virus stay on plastics?

Jeepney partitions
Jeepney partitions

RIGHT after the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board has released more than a month ago a Memorandum 2020-017 that includes, among others, a condition on installing impermeable barriers between rows of seats, the owner of the jeepney that Jose Marie Palomar, 32, rents bought a clear plastic sheet for that purpose.

"Gipabutangan mi ug plastic ingun ani para ma-maintain ang kanang social distancing tapos para dili pud magdikit-dikit ang mga tawo. Unya kanang, for example, simbako lang naay makasakay nga nay mga simtomas sa Covid, for example, mag ubo-ubo sila dili mo kuan dayun...mupilit ra sa cellophane ang kuan... malayo ra pud ang tawo (We put a plastic barrier inside to maintain social distancing then to keep commuters apart. For example, God forbid, if a person with Covid-19 happens to ride and then cough, the virus cannot spread immediately, it will be stuck in the plastic so the others will be spared from being infected)," explains Jose, who has been a driver for three years now.

One of the things that I find interesting to know is the longevity of the virus on surfaces. The virus can be caught by somebody who touches a surface or an object that has the virus on it and then touch his or her face. How long the virus stays depends on the material of the surface. Others say it also depends on the temperature and on humidity. But what if the surface is made of a clear plastic like what Jose and other jeepney drivers use to partition the seats for passengers?

Most of the resources online say that the virus can live from two to three days on surfaces made of plastic. The Journal of Medicine supports this. Some say, like The Lancet, that it can live on it for a week. Other examples of plastic-made items are milk containers, detergent bottles, elevator buttons, light switches, credit cards, food packaging, ATM buttons, among others. But according to The Economic Times that on this kind of surface "the amount of viable virus decreases sharply over this time."

The virus can also stay for three days on surfaces made up of stainless steel like refrigerators, pots and pans, sinks, and some water bottles, among others.

The kind of material where the virus stays the longest, according to many sources, is on metals, ceramics, and drinking glasses and windows. It can live on these materials for up to five days. The shortest, however, is on paper like newspapers or mail where it stays on for a few minutes only. But another source says that it can actually live on paper for up to five days.

The zone of uncertainty caused by Covid-19 is wide. Being a novel virus, there is still a lot to learn about the coronavirus that causes Covid-19. The information from different studies about its length of stay on surfaces just like plastic sheets is conflicting. Some say it can live on it for three days, and others up to a week.

But Dr. Bharat Pankhania, a clinical lecturer at the University of Exeter, reminded that "your mindset needs to be that everything, everyone, everywhere is contaminated. And whatever you handle is a potential risk."

That is why another condition of the memorandum states that parts of the vehicle that are often touched have to be disinfected at least once every three hours if the vehicle is in continuous operation and at every end of each trip as well.

"Trapuhan gyud ni siya ug alcohol (You need to wipe and clean it with all alcohol)," Jose looked at his jeepney, "Sabunan ug Joy, pag-uga na niya, ayha ra nako spryhan ug alcohol para ma disinfect. Kay tibuok adlaw biya ka gabiyahe unya wala ka kabalo... simbako naay pasahero nga nakasakay... (Wash it with soap, after it dries, spray with alcohol to disinfect because if you have been plying the whole day, you have no idea that an infected passenger had entered your jeepney)" he warned.

There are a little over a hundred public jeepneys operating in Bugo, Jose estimated, and he believes that all has followed the conditions of the memorandum. Noticeably, Jose's partition has red cloth sewn on the edge of the plastic, done by his mother, so that it will not be flimsy once his jeepney is on the road.

Other than bringing an exit pass and wearing a face mask, the passengers' part is to make handwashing a habit -- to do it thoroughly, with warm water and soap, and to do it as often as they can.


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