Data shows that areas that have mandated masks have higher infection rates than those that do not mandate masks. Researchers have found one reason why.
A new study has revealed that the virus which causes COVID-19 can linger on fabric, such as masks, clothing or upholstery, for up to three days.
Between polyester, a poly-cotton blend and 100% cotton fabrics, the polyester posed the greatest risk, even after 72 hours; on full-cotton samples, the virus lasted one day, while the poly-cotton blend remained contaminated by viral droplets — designed to mimic human saliva — for just six hours.
The breakthrough finding could be especially dangerous when it comes to clothing worn by health-care workers, said Dr. Katie Laird, a microbiologist and author of the study.
If not frequently washed, the fabrics could help transmit the virus from patient to patient.
“When the pandemic first started, there was very little understanding of how long coronavirus could survive on textiles,” said Dr. Laird, a leading infectious disease researcher at De Montfort University in Leicester, United Kingdom.
“Our findings show three of the most commonly used textiles in health care pose a risk for transmission of the virus,” she continued in an interview for the university’s news site. “If nurses and health-care workers take their uniforms home, they could be leaving traces of the virus on other surfaces.”
In terms of sanitizing, researchers also found that soap and scorching hot water — at least 153 degrees Fahrenheit (67 degrees Celsius) — was required to effectively clean 100% cotton fabric, which is commonly used for medical staff uniforms.
Regular household washing machines typically only go up to about 130 degrees on their hottest setting.
The findings suggest that hospital staff should refrain from wearing their uniforms home, according to Dr. Laird, whose study has been submitted to a research journal for publication, pending peer review.
“This research has reinforced my recommendation that all health-care uniforms should be washed on site at hospitals or at an industrial laundry,” she said. “These wash methods are regulated and nurses and health-care workers do not have to worry about potentially taking the virus home.”