How Long Does COVID-19 Last on Your Body, in the Air, on Surfaces, and on Food + a COVID-19 Symptoms Timeline
Many tough questions surrounding COVID-19 continue to linger in our minds.
How long does COVID-19 last?
When can you safely return to the public?
How can you ensure the safety of yourself and others?
Every case proves to be different, but we’ll lay out just how long experts say COVID-19 can last on your body, in the air, on surfaces, and even on food.
In Your Body
COVID-19 has an incubation period, meaning most people report symptoms appearing within 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. However, this doesn’t reflect how long the virus can remain in the body. Before even developing symptoms, someone who has been exposed and infected with SARS-CoV-2 can transmit the virus within 48 hours.
According to recent findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), recovered adults can continue to shed detectable, but non-infectious, SARS-CoV-2 RNA in upper respiratory specimens for up to 3 months after illness onset*.
Right now, there is no evidence that a person with a confirmed case, showing mild or moderate symptoms, can transmit the virus more than 10 days after their first positive test result.
The CDC is advising people who test positive for COVID-19 to isolate themselves for the following amount of time:
|Severity of COVID-19||Amount of time CDC recommends isolating|
|No symptoms||10 days after a positive test|
|Mild or moderate illness||10 days after symptoms appear, and after 24 hours with no fever (without using medications)|
|Severe illness||Up to 20 days after symptoms appear|
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How Long Do Symptoms Last?
According to the CDC, people with COVID-19 report experiencing mild to severe symptoms, usually appearing 2-14 days after exposure to the virus.
Symptoms can include, but are not limited to:
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Muscle or body aches
- New loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
This list does not include all possible symptoms. Please call your medical provider if you are experiencing trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion, inability to wake or stay awake, bluish lips or face, or any other symptoms that are severe or concerning to you. Call 911 or call ahead to your local emergency facility, and notify the operator that you are seeking care for someone who has or may have COVID-19.
In The Air
According to the CDC, the principal mode by which people are infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is through exposure to respiratory droplets carrying infectious virus.
Produced when breathing, speaking, singing, coughing, and sneezing, these respiratory droplets are transmitted in three distinct ways: contact, droplet, and airborne. Although the coronavirus, transmitted through the air, has been shown to remain in the air for up to three hours, there is no evidence of efficient spread (routine, rapid spread, etc.) to people far away or who enter a space hours after an infectious person was there.
Airborne SARS-CoV-2 appears to spread during the following circumstances:
Example: an infected person exposes susceptible people or susceptible people are exposed shortly after the infectious person has left a space
Prolonged exposure to respiratory particles
Example: singing, shouting or exercising increases the concentration of suspended respiratory droplets in the air.
Inadequate ventilation or air handling
Example: build-up of suspended, small respiratory droplets and particles
In a new study from the New England Journal of Medicine, experts suggest SARS-CoV-2 can survive for:
- 4 hours on copper
- 24 hours on cardboard
- 72 hours on plastic and steel
Recently, researchers for The Lancet found that as long as people follow standard cleaning procedures, the risk of transmission from surfaces is low.
According to the World Health Organization, coronaviruses need a live animal or human host to multiply and survive and cannot multiply on the surface of food packages. Additionally, researchers at WHO say there is currently no confirmed case of COVID-19 transmitted through food or food packaging.
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Note: This is a brief overview of emerging evidence and should not be taken as treatment advice or treatment recommendations for any individual or specific medical condition. The strategies reviewed may not be appropriate for you. For any medical advice or consideration, we strongly suggest discussions with your personal healthcare professionals.
*Albeit at concentrations considerably lower than during illness, in concentration ranges where replication-competent virus has not been reliably recovered and infectiousness is unlikely.