WRAL Investigates

Coronavirus can be found on some surfaces people touch every day

Posted October 29, 2020 6:28 p.m. EDT
Updated October 30, 2020 6:59 a.m. EDT

— From door handles to payment keypads to gym equipment, people touch hundreds of surfaces each day – not knowing who touched that surface previously. That’s why public health officials have repeatedly encouraged everyone to wash their hands during the coronavirus pandemic as a protective measure.

The science continues to change about how long the virus stays on surfaces and how long it stays alive, which makes it contagious. Still, many people say they don't want to take chances.

"[I'm] big on hand sanitizer afterward," North Carolina State University student Jaylan Harrington said. "I’m fine touching surfaces. I think that’s maybe not as big with spreading COVID."

WRAL Investigates recently hit the streets to see if the virus could be found on surfaces that are part of people's daily routines. Armed with a testing kit from Enviral Tech, surfaces that get touched over and over every day were swabbed

  • The keypad and pump at a gas station
  • The refrigerator handles and keypad at a grocery store
  • Handles in a weight room at a gym
  • Several areas of a Cary playground

"The type of testing, of environmental testing, that we do is primarily looking at hard surfaces," said Shula Jaron, co-founder and chief executive of Enviral Tech.

Jaron helped start the Oregon-based company in March, just as the virus spread in the Northwest, especially at a nursing home near Seattle. The company created the test kit and marketed it to congregate living facilities, especially nursing homes.

"Our environmental test detected up to a week ahead of when anyone started showing symptoms," she said. "So, these facilities would have had no other way to know they had someone shedding virus in their facilities."

Part of the appeal of Enviral Tech's test kit is that answers come quickly. About 24 hours after mailing in swabs, WRAL Investigates had results.

The gym, with all of the sweat and heavy breathing, came back negative. So did the grocery store and playground surfaces.

But the keypad and handle at the Exxon station at Centennial Parkway and Lake Wheeler Road in Raleigh tested positive for low levels of coronavirus. An employee said he would notify management of the test results, but no one ever responded to WRAL Investigates with a response.

"I think gas stations are a pretty common place because so many people are coming in and out of gas stations," Jaron said.

"I’m not surprised you got it at the gas pump," Raleigh resident Dimitri Tanios agreed.

"You should be prepared at all levels to protect yourself," Raleigh resident Steve Brown said.

Unlike human testing for the virus, Enviral Tech grades positive results as low, medium or high. The gas pump was low, which likely means the virus wasn’t alive, Jaron said.

"This does not mean that what we found is infectious, it just means that somebody coming by likely shed virus," she said.

Contagious or not, the results provide a lesson for why health officials keep reminding people to wash their hands,

"It makes me a little more mindful of what to do when I go to a gas station," Harrington said. "Definitely, I am going to start wiping down the pump before I grab it. Stuff like the keyboard, maybe wiping that down before I touch it. Yeah, it’s concerning."

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