Can You Get the Coronavirus While Sheltering in Place?

The short answer from a pulmonologist
Woman sheltering in place drinking coffee and checking phone while at home

This article was originally published on May 6, 2020. It was updated on May 7, 2020 to reflect new information about this rapidly evolving situation.

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Q: If you’ve been at home for the last month or so, can you still get the coronavirus?

A: Well, it’s possible but very unlikely. A recent study showed that the virus could live on porous surfaces for about a day. But depending on the object and the circumstances, for example, temperature and how dry or humid the area is,  the virus may not even survive for that long. As far as I know, there have been no reported cases of people acquiring coronavirus from touching contaminated surfaces. The major way to acquire this kind of infection is by inhaling infected droplets that are in the air.

We also know the average time that it takes for someone to develop coronavirus symptoms is about two weeks after exposure. In some cases, the timeframe might be longer than two weeks. That would be one way that someone could develop symptoms during the isolation period. But with no exposure, it’s very unlikely that someone will get the infection while being isolated, meaning they won’t just get it from the air in their home. 

Regarding the reported cases of people getting the virus while sheltering in place in New York City, my interpretation is not that isolation is not working. It is unlikely that someone will acquire the coronavirus without any contact with someone who carries the virus.

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Most cases seem to be occurring in confined locations, mostly from home. The other common origin points for cases are nursing homes and assisted living facilities. The fact that the coronavirus is affecting mostly older people suggests that the most vulnerable population for developing symptomatic infection is the one that requires visitation and some form of in-person assistance. This highlights the possibility of the virus being transmitted from asymptomatic carriers. It also reinforces the importance of everyone taking social distancing and hygiene precautions.

— Pulmonologist Humberto Choi, MD.

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