The lead author of the study cautioned that the findings do not prove that coronavirus can be transmitted through the air, only that it is “theoretically possible.”
“We’re not by any way saying there is aerosolized transmission of the virus,” Neeltje van Doremalen, a scientist at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, told The Associated Press.
The virus, referred to as both COVID-19 and HCoV-19, is being transmitted rapidly in some way, either through person-to-person contact, or through particles in the air or on surfaces. U.S. health experts have urged the public to take precautions to avoid becoming infected and transmitting coronavirus. Frequent hand-washing, avoiding handshakes, and large crowds in certain areas is recommended.
As of Wednesday, more than 120,000 people across the globe — as well as 1,100 Americans — tested positive for the virus. Thirty-three people have died in the U.S., and more than 4,500 in all. The number of cases in the U.S. has more than tripled since March 6.
The patients who succumb to the virus tend to be older or have underlying health conditions.
As part of the study, scientists dispensed coronavirus through a nebulizer into a device that recreated an open-air environment. Coronavirus particles were also put onto a variety of surfaces common in homes and hospitals, including cardboard, plastic, stainless steel and copper.
Researchers found that coronavirus remained viable for the longest on plastic and stainless steel.
“We found that viable virus could be detected in aerosols up to 3 hours post aerosolization, up to 4 hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to 2-3 days on plastic and stainless steel,” the study says.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease and a member of the White House coronavirus task force, told Congress on Wednesday that the situation in the U.S. is “going to get worse” with respect to the virus. He said that the virus has spread to far to contain, and that the public has to take mitigation steps, such as improving personal hygiene and avoiding large crowds.
Fauci also said that he estimates that the mortality rate for coronavirus patients is around 1%, making it 10 times as lethal as the common flu.