Novel Coronavirus, COVID-19 and How to Deal with the Virus

in the Indoor Environment


Chin S. Yang, Ph.D., and Ching-Yi Tsai, Ph.D.


A novel (new) coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that causes the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) was first reported from China in November of 2019. The symptoms of the disease are similar to pneumonia which include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. It has now spread to more than 100 countries, including the United States, causing a pandemic.


Because the virus is new, our current understanding about the virus is largely based on what is known from similar coronaviruses, such as SARS, MERS, and common human coronaviruses. COVID-19 is a new disease, and there is more to learn about how it spreads among individuals and in the community and the severity of illness it causes.


It is now known that COVID-19 is spread person-to-person, directly or indirectly. The spread appears to occur mainly through close contact with one another (within about 6 feet) or respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. A person can be infected with COVID-19 by touching contaminated surfaces and then touching their mucous membranes of the nose, eyes, or mouth, but this is not thought to be the primary way the virus spreads. A recent review revealed that the SARS virus, which is genetically about 80% similar to the new coronavirus, can persist on inanimate surfaces like glass, metal, plastic, paper or wood for up to 9 days at room temperature.


A recent study in the US and published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that aerosol and fomite transmission of SARS-CoV-2 is plausible, since the virus can remain infectious in aerosols for hours and on surfaces up to days. These findings are similar to those with SARS.


Preliminary data suggests that older adults (50 years or older) or persons with underlying health conditions (i.e., cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, hypertension, and cancer) are at an increased risk for severe illness or death from this virus. However, people of all ages have been reportedly infected. There are currently no vaccines or therapeutic treatments available for COVID-19. Frequent hand washing and avoiding events with large groups of people can minimize individual exposure to the virus. Early containment and prevention for further spread are crucial in stopping the outbreak and to control this novel infectious threat.


In the event that an indoor environment is exposed or contaminated by the virus, there is no direct testing available. We recommend that the environment be cleaned, and surfaces sanitized or disinfected. Surface treatments can be accomplished by using several common disinfectants. The following cleaning/sanitizing agents/disinfectants are known to be very effective against SARS virus, which is genetically about 80% similar to the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). The sanitizers/disinfectants are:


1. Alcohols, including rubbing alcohol or isopropyl alcohol containing at least 60%, can inactivate the virus particles by denaturing the viral proteins. However, alcohols are flammable and should only be used in great care and should not be used in large scale sanitization.


2. The second disinfectant is hydrogen peroxides. A review of scientific literature suggests that 0.5% hydrogen peroxide can inactivate SARS virus within one minute. Common hydrogen peroxide sanitizer available in drug stores is 3% hydrogen peroxide.Some mold remediation contractors may have equipment and capability to apply hydrogen peroxide by fogging.


3. The third option is sodium hypochlorite solutions or similar chlorine-releasing compounds. It was reported that 0.1% sodium hypochlorite solution can inactivate SARS particles within one minute. Sodium hypochlorite is the active ingredient in household bleach. Commercial bleach solutions usually contain 5-6% sodium hypochlorite. Chlorinereleasing compounds and solutions should always be used with the greatest caution. Chlorine gas is toxic and can be lethal. Never mix bleach solutions with acids, alkali, or other cleaning agents, such as ammonia or Windex.


As always, know your sanitizers and disinfectants. Read instruction labels on the disinfectant containers or MSDSs, if they are available, before using them. These disinfectants should only be used and applied by professionals when used in large scales.


In an indoor environment where contamination is suspected, sanitization with selected sanitizers/disinfectants is recommended. Fogging, surface wiping, or a combination of both is useful. Fogging may reach areas where wiping is difficult to reach. However, wiping on surfaces where frequent human contacts likely occur is also very important.


After sanitization and disinfection treatments, post-treatment is verified by swab sampling to test for bacterial and fungal spores as surrogates to the virus. There are no specific testing methods available for the virus obtained from environmental samples. Bacterial and fungal spores are more resistant to the sanitizer/disinfectant treatment than the virus. If the sanitizer/disinfectant treatment can eradicate bacteria and fungal spores on the surfaces, the probability of the virus being inactivated is probably greater than 95%.


Our senior microbiologist, Dr. Ching-Yi Tsai, was a member of the Taiwanese team that identified and completed whole genome sequences of SARS virus in patients in Taiwan. She helped to determine the replication and pathogenesis of SARS coronavirus. If you have any questions concerning the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2 or COVID-2019, you can reach her at 856-767-8300 or Prestige is currently researching a RT-PCR method for the detection of the virus from the environment.



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Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 101:2542-2547.


Date: March 23, 2020