Is It Safe to Get Packages and Mail During the Coronavirus Pandemic?

Courier holding cardboard box for delivery
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Even if you’ve been diligent about staying home and practicing social distancing when you do have to go out, you might still be worried about one threat—getting coronavirus from packages coming into your home.

But getting deliveries might be your one connection to the outside world, allowing you to get household goods without making direct contact with other people or waiting in lines only to find empty store shelves.

Well, you’re not alone. In fact, spending on Amazon has increased 44 percent year over year as consumers seek to get what they need from the comfort of their homes, according to Facteus’ Consumer Spending report

Experts say getting deliveries is safer than venturing out, particularly since it’s known you can catch coronavirus through respiratory droplets that are spread by direct person-to-person contact.

Currently, there isn’t evidence that coronavirus is spread through the mail or package delivery even when packages are coming from virus hotspots, according to the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO).

“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,” the CDC’s FAQ states. “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.”

However, the CDC does concede that “it may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object, like a packaging container, that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes,” though they emphasize that this is highly unlikely.

A March National Institutes of Health study found that the coronavirus could be detected on cardboard for up to 24 hours and on plastic and stainless steel for two to three days.

With a lack of additional studies, changing directives, and worrisome incidents like the recent case in which a delivery person was caught on camera spitting on packages (and was later fired by Amazon as a result), it’s wise to take some extra precautions for your own peace of mind.

Delivery Service Safety Protocols

If you’re ordering food or grocery delivery, “contactless” delivery options have become the default.

FedEx, USPS, and UPS have suspended signature requirements, and you can specify delivery instructions—like where you want packages to be left—to minimize contact.

The three major delivery services say they are making more efforts to protect their employees, like providing masks and hand sanitizer and providing paid leave to workers who are diagnosed with COVID-19. 

In a letter to shareholders, Jeff Bezos said Amazon has “made over 150 significant process changes in our operations network.” But some Amazon warehouse employees have been saying that more safety measures need to be put in place, and some FedEx delivery workers say conditions are still unsanitary.

Since access to testing remains a problem and asymptomatic people are now known to spread the virus, there is, unfortunately, no way to ensure that your delivery person hasn’t been infected. So how can you minimize any risk when handling mail or packages?

How to Safely Get the Mail

Follow these simple steps to minimize risk and promote safety:

  • Make sure your mail person has left before you go out to get your mail, so you can avoid making contact. 
  • Designate a place in your home where you can place the mail and leave it there for 24 hours as coronavirus isn’t known to live longer than that on cardboard or paper.
  • If you need to open the mail right away, open it and try to remove the contents without touching them. The contents should be uncontaminated since it’s likely been untouched for more than 24 hours while en route to you.
  • Throw out the outer envelope.
  • After handling the mail, wash your hands thoroughly per CDC guidelines before touching other surfaces or your face.

How to Disinfect Packages

For added protection, consider these suggested steps:

  • Let the package sit for 24 hours before opening it, since the virus isn’t known to live longer than that. 
  • If you need to open the package right away, you can wipe it down with a disinfectant wipe—or a cloth moistened with disinfectant spray or 70 percent isopropyl alcohol—before opening it.  
  • If the package traveled over the span of a couple days, the contents inside likely do not need to be disinfected as the virus wouldn’t survive longer than 24 hours. Try to unpack the contents without touching them. 
  • Throw away the outside packaging and sanitize any surface on which it was placed with disinfectant wipes or spray.
  • Sanitize any surfaces, like light switches and doorknobs, which you may have inadvertently touched when you were handling the package. 
  • If the package is larger and you end up “hugging” it to carry it inside, toss any clothes it touched into the wash.
  • Afterwards, wash your hands thoroughly per CDC guidelines before touching other surfaces or your face.

Again, public health experts say it’s very unlikely you’d get coronavirus from packages. But with so much uncertainty, being extra cautious can help you reduce potential risk.