Soccer practice has ended, and you’re tossing the kids’ ball into your SUV when a thought hits you: Could the virus that causes COVID-19 live on sports equipment like the soccer ball, shin guards, shoes, and other stuff?
Yes, it could. Viruses like SARS-CoV-2 can live on all kinds of surfaces -- including sports equipment -- for hours or potentially even days on end.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re likely to come down with COVID-19 from handling infected sports equipment.
While studies have shown that you can transfer an infectious virus by touching a contaminated object and then rubbing your eyes or touching your nose, most experts agree that you’re far more likely to catch COVID-19 from inhaling infectious airborne particles or droplets (which is why you should social distance and wear a mask in public) than from surface transfer. (But let me be clear: You should still wash your hands frequently).
If you’ve seen news reports about studies that found SARS-CoV-2 can survive on various surface for hours or even days, it’s important to note that many of these experiments did not reflect real-world conditions. Using influenza as an example (because the research apparently doesn’t exist yet for SARS-CoV-2), a person can cough out a droplet of mucus that contains between 10 and 100 infectious viral particles that subsequently land on, let’s say, a doorknob and might be picked up by the next person to touch that knob.
But in the SARS-CoV-2 experiments, researchers often placed viral samples containing something like 10 million viral particles on a surface and then measured how long the virus survived. It’s just not likely that 10 million infectious particles of SARS-CoV-2 could reasonably accumulate on an everyday surface or on a soccer ball -- or any other item of sports equipment, frankly. In normal, everyday quantities, this virus might dry out and die much more quickly on surfaces than the experiments suggest, which means you’re less likely to get infected this way.
So basically, yes, it’s possible to catch COVID-19 by touching a contaminated surface like a soccer ball, but it’s not likely. All of that said, you should still clean and, if possible, disinfect your sports equipment after each use, and you should wash your hands thoroughly after touching the equipment.