An Australian science agency has found that the COVID-19 virus can live worryingly long on a phone surface, among other items. Researchers Shane Riddell, Sarah Goldie, Andrew Hill, Debbie Eagles, and Trevor W. Drew wrote in the Virology Journal that "SARS-CoV-2 can remain infectious for significantly longer time periods than generally considered possible. These results could be used to inform improved risk mitigation procedures to prevent the fomite spread of COVID-19."
The virus can remain viable for up to 28 days on a phone surface, hard cash, and some metal surfaces. That's longer than the viability shown by the influenza virus, which tends to stay infectious on a surface for 17 days. Porous material like fabric and shirts are not so hospitable for the virus as it can only survive on that material for about two weeks.
Still, there are some caveats applied to the study. It's worth mentioning here that the research group conducted the full experiment in controlled conditions, which are decidedly different than real-world scenarios. The team kept the virus in an environment of 68 degrees F at all times. Plus, it was maintained in dark conditions, removed from ultraviolet light. But it still gives us more understanding about COVID-19, how it propagates forward, and what exactly you can do to mitigate the likelihood of transmission.
What this means for you — Phone hygiene has become a critical concern due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Federal Communications Commission has guidelines on how to make sure your phone is safe to use. Whether you're an Apple user or an Android owner, a lint-free cloth with a safe cleaning solution used on an unplugged phone can disinfect the surface. Just remember to practice moderation in your efforts because repeated wipe-downs with cleaning material can weaken the protective coating on a phone screen.
What about other surfaces? — Research suggests that COVID-19 lives on doorknobs for about five days, on furniture as well as decks for around four days, and when it comes to plastics, stainless steel, transit, and elevator buttons, the virus can remain viable for about two to three days. The most useful way to receive this study is to understand how important it is to clean your surroundings, limit person-to-person physical interaction unless you live with the individual, and maintain good hygiene habits for yourself as well as your gadgets. Disinfecting takes a few minutes but it can save lives.