Can I get COVID-19 from my cellphone? Your COVID-19 questions answered

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We’re breaking down what you need to know about the pandemic. Send us your questions via email at [email protected] and we’ll answer as many as we can. We’ll publish a selection of answers every weekday on our website, and we’re also putting some of your questions to the experts on the air during The National and on CBC News Network. So far we’ve received more than 43,000 emails from all corners of the country.

Can I get COVID-19 from my cellphone?

You’re at the supermarket and you pull out your phone to check your grocery list. Later at home, you take a call.

Many of you, like Karen K., are wondering if it’s possible to expose yourself to the coronavirus through your phone.  

Experts say the risk of a contaminated phone exposing you to the virus is actually quite high.

“Cellphones are the filthiest object you carry with you,” said Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto. 

When you’re out of the house and coming into contact with surfaces like grocery carts, door handles or payment terminals, the risk of transferring the virus to your phone increases.

Then when you use your phone for calls, it comes into direct contact with your face, and public health officials have repeatedly driven home the importance of not touching your face.

“The coronaviruses, like many other viruses, can survive for a number of hours on surfaces,” said Dr. Colin Lee, infectious disease specialist at the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit in Ontario. “The key is not getting any of that stuff on your face.”

It’s not clear exactly how long the virus could live on a phone, but Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist and researcher based at Toronto General Hospital, estimates the virus can stick to surfaces “anywhere from two hours to 48 hours.”

The experts we spoke to said you should try not to use your phone when you’re out, if possible, and they agree that you want to keep your phone as clean as you would keep your hands. 

“It’s probably a good idea to wipe your phone down periodically throughout the day to keep it clean,” Bogoch said.

“Once you’re home and in your ‘bubble,’ it’s not a significant issue,” Furness said. “But intermittent phone touching while being out and about is a significant risk, no question.”

How should I clean my phone or other gadgets without ruining them?

Samsung, Google and Apple all say the safest way to clean your phone is with isopropyl alcohol or household disinfectant wipes.

The companies released guidelines for hard-to-clean products like your cellphone, headphones and smart watches. All three recommend wiping your device with a solution that is at least 70 per cent isopropyl alcohol, and not to use bleach. 

Apple says you can wipe the hard, nonporous surfaces of your Apple products, “such as the display, keyboard or other exterior surfaces.” 

Samsung has released similar guidelines, but cautions that they apply only to the glass, ceramic and metal surfaces of your phone. The company says accessories made of plastic, rubber or leather may get damaged if they’re cleaned this way. 

For Samsung Galaxy phones, watches and tablets, the company recommends first turning off your device and unplugging it then wiping it with a microfibre cloth that has been dipped in or sprayed with the disinfectant. Google recommends similar steps for cleaning Pixel phones.

Here are a few basics for safely cleaning your tech:

  • Don’t use aerosol sprays, bleaches or anything abrasive.
  • Don’t spray or pour any cleaner directly onto your device.
  • Avoid materials that might scratch screens or glass, like paper towels.
  • Try not to get moisture into any openings.
  • Don’t submerge your device in cleaners or liquids.

As for your phone case, depending on what it’s made of, you’re probably safe to wash it with soap and water.

Is it safe to sing together in a choir?

As parts of the country begin to ease stay-at-home orders, many of you, like Rachel K., are asking whether it’s safe to sing at indoor religious services.

The answer is probably not, according to our experts.

“Choirs are a problem,” Dr. Allison McGeer, an infectious disease specialist at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital, said on CBC podcast The Dose

“I really hate to discourage people from singing, but choirs are known to be dangerous for all sorts of respiratory diseases — tuberculosis, measles, influenza,” said McGeer. 

“When you sing in a choir … you’re projecting your voice, and that spreads particles from your mouth much more effectively than otherwise,” she explained. 

A report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), on an outbreak among members of a Washington state choir in early March, found that droplets released during singing may have helped spread the virus.

Dr. Zain Chagla, infectious disease physician at St. Joseph’s Healthcare in Hamilton said “there were likely a number of reasons for [the outbreak] outside of the singing, including multiple touched surfaces, shared snacks and others.” 

However, he agrees that the “strength and shedding of droplets may have been enhanced by singing, particularly in poorly ventilated/close contact settings.” 

Chagla added that choirs and in-person religious rites typically require a lot of people gathering together.

“This case study shows the potential of the spread if people do come to these types of events sick and shed a significant amount,” said Chagla. 

While choirs could potentially be modified to limit the number of people, ensure physical distancing and “perhaps use masking as a method to help with settling down the droplets,” Chagla remains cautious.

“It’s important that choirs [or] religious groups, going forward, take this seriously as part of the reopening plan.”

Tuesday we answered questions about oversanitizing and your immune system.

Keep your questions coming by emailing us at [email protected].

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