Can coronavirus be spread by touching packages shipped from China? Experts weigh in.

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Medical experts say it is "highly unlikely" the coronavirus can be spread by touching a package or letter shipped from China or other COVID-19 hotspots. Pictured is a file photo of a worker handling packages at an Amazon.com fulfillment center. (Ross D. Franklin/)

Worried about getting the coronavirusby touching products you ordered from China?

Medical experts say the risk of contracting the fast-spreading virus by opening boxes or touching packages that originated overseas is very small.

“I think it’s highly unlikely” that a person would be infected in this manner, said Dr. David Cennimo, an infectious disease specialist who teaches at the Rutgers New Jersey Medical Schoolin Newark.

Cennimo and other experts said even if a package shipped from China or somewhere else far away did have droplets containing coronavirus on it, it’s likely those droplets would be dried out — with the virus killed — by the time the package arrived at a warehouse, a store or your front steps.

Nevertheless, if you happen to receive a package from overseas, or you work at a store or warehouse where shipments arrive from China or other places known to have coronavirus outbreaks, Cennimo said it makes sense to take the same precautions that experts all over the world have been advising people to take.

That includes washing your hands frequentlythroughout the day, especially before using your fingers to put food in your mouth, keeping your hands away from your nose, mouth and eyes as much as possible and avoiding contact with anyone who has or was exposed to the coronavirus.

Other health experts agree it is unlikely a person will get infected by touching products shipped from China — the world’s biggest coronavirus hotspot and where many suppliers used by American companies, including Amazon.com, are based.

Medical experts say it is highly unlikely the coronavirus can be spread by touching a package or letter shipped from China or other COVID-19 hotspots. (World Health Organization (WHO)/)

While researchers are still studying the coronavirus and how it spreads, they note that most viruses like this one don’t stay alive for very long on surfaces, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore. “So it is not likely you would get COVID-19 from a package that was in transit for days or weeks. The illness is most likely transmitted by droplets from an infected person’s sneeze or cough.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also says it is “very unlikely that the virus will persiston a surface after it has been moved, traveled and exposed to different conditions and temperatures.” The federal health agency recommends using a disinfectant if you think a surface or object is contaminated, and washing your hands after touching it.

Dr. Jack Caravanos, clinical professor of environmental public health sciences at the NYU School of Global Public Health, agrees shipped packages — including envelopes — pose very little risk of infectionbecause “the length of the journey and the harsh conditions it would face en route,” CBS News reported.

"At this time, I truly believe viral transmission by contaminated packages is very unlikely,” Caravanos told CBS News. “I would not take any special precautions opening or handling packages or envelopes.”

That view is in line with coronavirus safety information offered by the CDC and the World Health Organization.

A look inside an Amazon fulfillment center in Baltimore, Maryland. (Patrick Semansky/)

Concern among store workers

But the fear remains among some employees.

A worker at a HomeGoods store in New Jersey told NJ Advance Media she and her colleagues are concerned about potential exposure to the coronavirus because many products sold in the store are shipped from China.

The worker did not want to be named, for fear of losing her job.

She said the store has not notified employees about any steps being taken in response to the coronavirus outbreak, and she is concerned because she has an underlying health issue.

“I don’t know of any precautions being taken at all,” she said.

In addition, the store sells many items that are not designed to be wiped down, such as comforters, rugs, blankets and decorative pillows. So disinfectant wipes are not an option when touching or moving those products, the worker said.

A spokesman for TJX Companies, which owns HomeGoods, said he could not answer specific questions about the worker’s concerns, but noted the store chain is taking the coronavirus outbreak seriously.

“Our hearts are with the people in this country and around the world affected by the COVID-19 outbreak,” said Andrew Mastrangelo, manager of media relations for TJX Companies. “We are monitoring the situation closely, with the health and well-being of all our associates and customers being our main focus. We continue to follow the advice of local, state, national, and international public health agencies.”

Safety tips for businesses

The CDC offers a wide range of tipsfor businesses, schools, homeowners, event planners and faith-based organizations.

If you would like updates on New Jersey-specific coronavirus news, subscribe to our Coronavirus in N.J. newsletter.

Len Melisurgo may be reached at LMelisurgo@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @LensRealityor like him on Facebook. Find NJ.comon Facebook.