Here's Why You Should Think Twice Before Riding an Elevator Right Now

Those elevator buttons are teeming with germs. Here's why, amid COVID-19, you should take the stairs.

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If you find yourself deciding between taking an elevator or the stairs, now might be a good time to opt for the latter due to the coronavirus. The confined space, those oft-touched elevator buttons, and the aerosol nature of the COVID-19 contagion add up to a more risky experience than ever before.

While nearly everyone is abiding by stay-at-home orders and self-quarantining, COVID-19 is still spreading at alarming rates—which just goes to show how contagious the novel coronavirus truly is. Even if you're wearing masks outside, washing your hands for 20 seconds constantly, and scrubbing your surfaces, the fact is, you could still catch the contagion. That's because some seemingly inconspicuous behaviors put you at risk, like opting for the elevator.

Elevators are made up of stainless steel, and COVID-19 can live on metal surfaces for three days, according to research from the National Institutes of Health. But it can also live in aerosol form for up to three hours. So going into a confined space such as an elevator, even when empty, exposes you to air that could have been coughed in or sneezed in by infected individuals before you.

As Lisa Lockerd Maragakis, MD, of Johns Hopkins Medicine notes: "Evidence suggests that the virus does not survive as well on a soft surface (such as fabric) as it does on frequently touched hard surfaces like elevator buttons."

Additionally, according to research conducted by the University of Toronto in 2014, the number of bacteria present on an elevator button is 1.5 times higher than what's found on a public toilet seat. So it's no wonder the New York City Department of Health says you should "limit the number of people getting into the elevator at the same time to avoid crowding. People should consider only riding the elevator with their own party, taking the stairs, or waiting for the next elevator."

The advice is especially relevant in cities like New York where many people live in high-rise buildings. "Do not get into a crowded elevator, which while a subjective statement pre-COVID-19, may now mean no more than two people facing opposite directions," one New York management company shared with its residents. "Please encourage and do not be offended by this practice—this is our current reality."

That said, if you do have to ride in an elevator—after all, no one expects anyone to walk up 20 flights of stairs—follow the CDC guidelines and wear a mask and gloves to be a cautious as possible.

And for more health risks to avoid right now, check out 10 Health Risks You Can't Afford to Take Amid the Coronavirus.

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