Ask Lumi: What is the Risk of COVID-19 Transmission on Packages?

March 20, 2020

Companies have asked us about the risk of COVID-19 transmission on packaging, and what they should tell their customers. Here's what we know so far.

While there are still unknown factors, new studies report that packaging has a low risk of transmission. We've aggregated the best research we could find. The news is evolving quickly, so please tweet at us @Lumi if you have any new information.

  1. What is the risk of COVID-19 transmission through packages?
  2. How long does the novel coronavirus survive on packaging?
  3. What safety precautions should be taken in warehouses, distribution centers and 3PLs?
  4. Will carriers continue delivering packages throughout the pandemic?
  5. What safety precautions are carriers taking?
  6. What precautions can consumers take?

1. What is the risk of COVID-19 transmission through packages?

As of this writing (March 20th, 2020), the CDC states that getting COVID-19 through goods is low risk because they believe that transmission happens through respiratory droplets. They believe that droplets that may land on items would die within the days it takes to ship a package. While the virus is being compared to SARS, COVID-19 is spreading faster. It’s clear that there are still unknown aspects about how and why it’s spreading so quickly.

A statement from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control):

While we don’t know for sure that [COVID-19] will behave the same way as SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, we can use the information gained from both of these earlier coronaviruses to guide us. In general, because of poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely very low risk of spread from products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient temperatures. Coronaviruses are generally thought to be spread most often by respiratory droplets.

Currently there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with imported goods and there have not been any cases of COVID-19 in the United States associated with imported goods. Information will be provided on the
Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) website as it becomes available.

A statement from the WHO (World Health Organization):

The likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low and the risk of catching the virus that causes COVID-19 from a package that has been moved, travelled, and exposed to different conditions and temperature is also low.

2. How long does the novel coronavirus survive on packaging?

The New England Journal of Medicine recently released a study (by van Doremalen et al.) in which scientists from UCLA, Princeton, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and National Institutes of Health tested how long the coronavirus survives on various surfaces. 

According to the study, the virus can live on corrugated cardboard boxes for up to 24 hours and on plastic for up to 72 hours. With news changing quickly, it’s important to note that as of this writing this study has not yet been published or peer reviewed.

SARS-CoV-2 was more stable on plastic and stainless steel than on copper and cardboard, and viable virus was detected up to 72 hours after application to these surfaces [...] On cardboard, no viable SARS-CoV-2 was measured after 24 hours.

These charts use data from the above study to show concentration of viable coronavirus (TCID50 per ml in log scale) over a period of 96 hours.

3. What safety precautions should be taken in warehouses, distribution centers and 3PLs?

The response seen across Asian countries, particularly China and South Korea, point to best practices that are worth implementing in your warehouses and distribution centers. On March 18, authorities stated that China had no new local infections, which is attributed to their swift, stringent health practices. These were the practices enforced by the Chinese government:

  • Face masks for all personnel
  • Frequent hand washing
  • Heightened cleaning procedures of all surfaces and equipment
  • Body temperature checks upon entering and exiting facilities

These practices and their results are backed up by Lumi's own surveys of factories in China on March 11 and March 16. Factories reported using these practices mandated by the Chinese government to limit the spread of the virus, and have all come back to 100% capacity within a matter of weeks.

If you work with a 3PL, contact them to find out which procedures they are following.

    4. Will carriers continue delivering packages throughout the pandemic?

    USPS, UPS, FedEx, and DHL are all still operational, though capacity restrictions due to fewer passenger planes may cause delays. 

    Even as "shelter in place" or "stay at home" orders roll out across the world, these orders have not prevented package deliveries yet.

    5. What safety precautions are carriers taking?

    UPS, FedEx, and DHL are have temporary eased signature restrictions. These carriers in addition to USPS have cited that they're following the CDC's sanitization recommendations. 

    March 16 statement from UPS

    When a signature is requested by the shipper, UPS drivers will validate and record the name of the recipient of the package in lieu of obtaining a signature. In addition, where adult signature is requested by a shipper, recipients will be required to present identification with proof of age to the driver upon delivery. 

    Statement from FedEx

    We will temporarily suspend most signatures typically required for FedEx Express and FedEx Ground deliveries in the U.S. and Canada. The signature suspension also includes FedEx Freight in the U.S. and those normally required as part of our same-day service, as well as in our FedEx Office retail stores and onsite locations at various retailers. .

    Statement from DHL

    We are currently waiving the requirement for the recipient to sign upon receipt of parcels and registered mail with personal delivery. Instead of the recipient signing upon receipt, our deliverers document successful delivery with their own signature. 

    6. What precautions can consumers take?

    The Occupational Safety and Health Administration states, “At this time, there is no evidence that the COVID-19 is spread through environmental exposures, such as coming into contact with contaminated surfaces.”

    As an added precaution, customers may want to unpack deliveries and dispose of packaging outside. Customers can also disinfect packages before touching them to reduce risk of infection.

    To increase social distancing, consumers can ensure that their online delivery preferences with carrier services instruct delivery drivers to leave deliveries on the doorstep or in another location.

    Stay up-to-date on the Lumi COVID-19 blog.

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