Is it safe to ride on an elevator?

Because social distancing is one of the main ways people can protect themselves from contracting COVID-19, stepping onto an elevator may seem risky—but unavoidable if you live in a high-rise building.   

A report from CityLab, however, says that as long as all riders wear a mask while on board and practice caution, elevators are probably safer than more public hotspots like restaurants and mass transit systems. 

So far, experts have only linked one COVID-19 infection to an elevator. Research Square’s investigation into COVID-19 infections in Korea said a 41-year-old female was confirmed positive after she shared an elevator without wearing a mask with another tenet with the virus. 

Richard Corsi, the dean of engineering and computer science at Portland State University, ran a model of elevator droplets that shows that viral droplets can linger in the air well after an infected person exits. But he told CityLab those droplets “probably wouldn’t pack enough virus to sicken a second passenger.” 

Still, sharing an elevator ride with a stranger is risky. SF Gate recommends people choose the stairs over the elevator when possible. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends operators routinely clean and disinfect elevators more than once a day as long as they’re in use. The CDC also advises people to minimize traffic in enclosed spaces like elevators. In his interview with CityLab, Corsi recommended riders always wear a mask on board, avoid in-use elevators, and exit the elevator if someone without a face covering enters it. 

Some states have issued guidelines for elevators. Texas, for example, recommends there be no more than four people in an elevator at a time. 

In general, riders can also implement other CDC guidelines, including practice social distancing while on board, use a tissue or elbow to press buttons and other shared surfaces, avoid touching your face, and wash your hands immediately after using an elevator. 

Is it safe:

Sources: CityLab, Research Square, SF Gate, CDC, CBS Austin

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