This Is How Quickly Coronavirus Can Infect an Entire Hospital

A recently published study found that it's much faster than you probably think.

As the place where the most infected patients congregate, there's practically nowhere as risky as a hospital when it comes to potential coronavirus contamination. And even though disinfecting and proper use of face masks are strictly observed at the hospital, the basic function of a medical ward still makes it relatively easy for diseases to spread alarmingly fast. But just how quickly? According to a recent study from University College London, a virus can find its way on to most surfaces in a hospital within just three days.

To determine this, researchers safely simulated the spread of COVID-19 across surfaces in a hospital by placing water with plant-infecting DNA on a bed handrail in an isolation room. Forty-four sites throughout the building were tested over the next five days, revealing that by day three, a shocking 86 percent of sampled sites in clinical areas tested positive.

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"People can become infected with COVID-19 through respiratory droplets produced during coughing or sneezing," co-author Elaine Cloutman-Green, MD, Lead Healthcare Scientist at Great Ormond Street Hospital, said in the Journal of Hospital Infection. "Equally, if these droplets land on a surface, a person may become infected after coming into contact with the surface and then touching their eyes, nose, or mouth."

Cloutman-Green added that the findings are "a significant reminder that healthcare workers and all visitors to a clinical setting can help stop its spread through strict hand hygiene, cleaning of surfaces, and proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE)."

Researchers are quick to point out that while the study shows how quickly viruses can spread around medical buildings, it doesn't predict how likely someone is to become infected by the trace amounts.

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The findings are particularly jarring considering how quickly hospitals are suddenly becoming overwhelmed with coronavirus patients again. Texas just had its third straight day of record coronavirus hospitalizations and eight other states—North Carolina, South Carolina, California, Oregon, Arkansas, Mississippi, Utah, and Arizona—are also seeing their ICUs overwhelmed. So, if you have to head to the hospital for non-coronavirus-related reasons, be sure to practice all necessary precautions. And for more on unexpectedly dangerous spots, check out 7 "Safe" Places Where You Could Catch Coronavirus.

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Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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