Coronavirus Information Relevant to the Forest Products Industry

Last updated 3/26/2020

Key Takeaways

  • OSHA has provided a guidance document to assist workplaces in minimizing or preventing the spread of SARS-CoV-2.
  • SARS-CoV-2 can persist on surfaces, including packaging materials, from hours to days after contact with an infected individual; it was found to persist approximately 24 hours on cardboard.
  • SARS-CoV-2 is inactivated by common biocides such as alcohol (ethanol) and bleach (sodium hypochlorite).
  • Standard practices to protect worker health and safety is thought to be effective for SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater treatment operations.
  • SARS-CoV-2 is the virus responsible for the respiratory illness known as COVID-19, which is currently in a state of global pandemic.


The recent global outbreak of the novel human coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, which has the potential to cause the respiratory illness known as COVID-19, has raised concerns regarding the potential impact of this outbreak on operations and products in the forest products industry. These concerns relate to the potential human to human transmission of this virus in the workplace, the residency time of the virus on various materials and surfaces that an infected worker may come into contact with, and other potential exposure pathways such as wastewater treatment.

This webpage is intended to provide a summary of the best available scientific information regarding transmissibility and exposure pathways of the SARS-CoV-2 virus relevant to the forest products industry. This document does not prescribe any specific actions regarding SARS-CoV-2 and should not in any way be construed as, legal, health or any other form of advice; nor can we attest to the reliability, accuracy or completeness of the information that has been compiled from third-party sources. However, the information presented should assist forest product manufacturers and the general public in their decision-making to minimize or prevent the transmission of SARS-CoV-2.

Page Contents:
Background on Coronavirus | OSHA Guidance for Preparing the Workplace | SARS-CoV-2 Residency Time on Packaging Materials | SARS-CoV-2 and Wastewater Treatment | References

Background on Coronavirus

The SARS-CoV-2, novel human coronavirus (sometimes referred to as HCoV-19) was first detected in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China in December 2019.1 Human coronaviruses are representative of viruses that produce respiratory illnesses including Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).2 SARS-CoV-2 produces the respiratory illness known as COVID-19. As of this writing, 166 countries worldwide have reported positive cases of COVID-19 and the World Health Organization (WHO) has classified the disease as a pandemic.3 While the complete clinical features with regard to COVID-19 are not fully known, reported illnesses have ranged from very mild (including some with no reported symptoms) to severe, including illness resulting in death. Most COVID-19 illness is mild, though serious illness and death can occur, particularly in high-risk populations. Those that are considered high risk for serious illness include older people and people of all ages with severe chronic medical conditions including (but not limited to) heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes.4

The characterization of SARS-CoV-2 transmissibility is the subject of considerable study and the resulting information contributes to an evolving understanding of virus behavior. Human to human spread of the disease has been described with an incubation period of between 2 and 10 days from the time of exposure to the display of symptoms.2,5 It is thought that aerosolized droplets from the upper respiratory tract of infected patients, which may contain high viral loads, contribute to the effective human-to-human transmission of this virus. However, current research indicates the virus remains measurable on the surface of inanimate materials on the order of hours to days, which may also serve as a viable transmission pathway.2,6

Current general risk management practices recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for the purpose of slowing the spread of SARS-CoV-2 among the general population include1:

  • frequent handwashing for at least 20 seconds
  • follow state and local restrictions for the attendance of crowded areas
  • avoid contact with symptomatic persons and practice general social distancing (e.g. maintaining a distance of 6 feet from other individuals)
  • persons exposed to a confirmed case should self-isolate for a minimum of 14 days

The complete CDC risk assessment/risk management report can be found here:

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OSHA Guidance for Preparing the Workplace for COVID-19

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides guidance for workplaces to prepare for the COVID-19 outbreak. The guidance includes the following major areas for the prevention of SARS-CoV-2 transmission7:

  • Planning for potential areas of risk (e.g., work areas of close contact)
  • Preparing basic infection control practices (e.g., handwashing policies, disinfection where needed)
  • Develop policies and procedures to identify and isolate sick individuals
  • Communicate available workplace flexibilities and protections (e.g., remote work policy)
  • Utilize the standard hierarchy of hazard controls (e.g., engineering, administrative, safe work practices, and personal protective equipment)

The OSHA guidance document provides detailed considerations for risk assessment based on job activity and provides guidance for implementing hazard controls based on this assessment. This resource is available on the OSHA website at:

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SARS-CoV-2 Residency Time on Packaging Materials

A potential transmission route of SARS-CoV-2 (though, as noted in the OSHA guidance7, not thought to be the primary transmission route) is that of fomite transmission, which is the transmission of the virus from an inanimate object that has come into contact with an infected individual. One factor that determines the risk of transmission through this route is the residency time from which viable virus particles can be recovered from a contaminated material.

On March 23, 2020, the CDC published volume 69 of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) containing the article, “Public Health Responses to COVID-19 Outbreaks on Cruise Ships”. In this article, it is reported, “SARS-CoV-2 RNA was identified on a variety of surfaces in cabins of both symptomatic and asymptomatic infected passengers up to 17 days after cabins were vacated on the Diamond Princess but before disinfection procedures had been conducted (Takuya Yamagishi, National Institute of Infectious Diseases, personal communication, 2020). Although these data cannot be used to determine whether transmission occurred from contaminated surfaces, further study of fomite transmission of SARS-CoV-2 aboard cruise ships is warranted.”

Unfortunately, some lay press outlets have misinterpreted this report to indicate that the SARS-CoV-2 virus is capable of surviving and capable of transmission and infection from surfaces for up to 17 days after contact with an infected individual. However, what is actually indicated in this report is that the genetic material of the virus (e.g. RNA) has been recovered from surfaces within cruise ships up to 17 days after last potential contact with infected individuals. The presence of genetic material does not indicate that the virus is intact, alive, or infectious, nor does it indicate that the SARS-CoV-2 remains transmissible or infectious on surfaces for a period of 17 days. As noted by the MMWR authors, these data do not indicate that the transmission could, or did, occur from these surfaces.20

Currently, there is only a single source of residency data for SARS-CoV-2 available, which is a pre-print article in the New England Journal of Medicine by Doremalen et al. (2020) that has not yet undergone peer review.8 However, the authors evaluated the residency time of SARS-CoV-2 on several materials including some relevant to packaging and reported that viable virus could be detected in aerosols up to 3 hours post aerosolization, up to 4 hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to 2-3 days on plastic and stainless steel. The authors concluded that the half-lives of SARS-CoV-2 and the older strain, CoV-1 (which was also tested in this study), were similar except that SARS-CoV-2 did survive longer on cardboard than did CoV-1. However, the authors note that more variability was found in replicates for the result of cardboard, and thus the findings are associated with some uncertainty.

Previous studies on CoV-1 (that produces SARS) found similar or slightly extended residence times on paper and wood compared to Doremalen et al. (2020). Duan et al. (2003) observed that the CoV-1 virus remained infective after 96 hours of residency on press paper, 120 hours of residency on filter paper, and 96 hours of residency on wood board. However, it is notable that the maximum infectivity observed by Duan et al. (2003) from contaminated paper was less than that of glass or primary exposures such as infected sputum. As well, the infectivity rate at the end of the residency period observed by Duan et al. (2003) was extremely low, in that only a few test cells were observed to be infected with viable virus particles as compared to 26% – 50% of test cells that were infected within the first 48 to 72 hours. Lai et al. (2005) found that residency time was largely dependent on viral concentrations and that the higher concentration tested in their evaluation remained present approximately 24 hours after inoculation and that the lower concentration tested was not found to be present after 5 minutes.9 These findings led Lai et al. (2005) to conclude, “The risk of infection via contact with droplet-contaminated paper is small.”

It is important to remember that these types of fomite transmissions have the potential to occur if the material in question has had substantive exposure to an infected individual shedding virus.

It should be noted that if forest products such as paper products are finished with secondary packaging (e.g., plastic wrap, foil lamination, etc.) that residency times for the relevant packaging materials may be considered for evaluating potential residency times for those products. As well, research conducted with surrogate viruses (gastroenteritis virus and mouse hepatitis virus) suggests that lower temperatures and lower relative humidity have the potential to prolong residency times and higher temperatures and relative humidity have the potential to reduce residency times relative to what is typically experienced in an indoor environment.10

For all surfaces of concern, alcohol (ethanol), bleach (sodium hypochlorite), and glutardialdehyde were observed to be effective biocides and disinfectants for previous strains of coronavirus. Ethanol at concentrations between 62% and 71% reduced coronavirus infectivity within 1 minute of exposure time by several orders of magnitude, to near non-infective levels. Concentrations of 0.1 – 0.5% sodium hypochlorite and 2% glutardialdehyde were also effective with a similar reduction of infectivity. However, it was observed that 0.04% benzalkonium chloride, 0.06% sodium hypochlorite and 0.55% orthophtalaldehyde were less effective.11

WHO has published a protocol12 for public health officials to conduct sampling and analysis of coronavirus on surfaces, which can be found here:

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SARS-CoV-2 and Wastewater Treatment

SARS-CoV-2 has been detected in the feces of some patients diagnosed with COVID-19. The amount of virus released from the body (shed) in stool, how long the virus is shed, and whether the virus in stool is infectious are not known. The risk of transmission of COVID-19 from the feces of an infected person is also unknown. SARS, a similar coronavirus, has been detected in untreated sewage for up to 2 to 14 days. In the 2003 SARS outbreak, there was documented transmission associated with sewage aerosols.13

There are known microbial hazards for workers engaged in managing wastewater treatment operations. The SARS-CoV-2 hazard is expected to be controlled with standard risk mitigation strategies currently employed in wastewater treatment.16 The CDC has provided the following guidance for wastewater treatment workers:12

“Wastewater treatment plant operations should ensure workers follow routine practices to prevent exposure to wastewater. These include using engineering and administrative controls, safe work practices, and PPE normally required for work tasks when handling untreated wastewater. No additional COVID-19–specific protections are recommended for employees involved in wastewater management operations, including those at wastewater treatment facilities.”

The CDC recommends the following “Basic Hygiene Practices for Workers” handling human sewage or waste:14

  • Wash hands with soap and water immediately after handling human waste or sewage.
  • Avoid touching face, mouth, eyes, nose, or open sores and cuts while handling human waste or sewage.
  • After handling human waste or sewage, wash your hands with soap and water before eating or drinking.
  • After handling human waste or sewage, wash your hands with soap and water before and after using the toilet.
  • Before eating, removed soiled work clothes and eat in designated areas away from human waste and sewage-handling activities.
  • Do not smoke or chew tobacco or gum while handling human waste or sewage.
  • Keep open sores, cuts, and wounds covered with clean, dry bandages.
  • Gently flush eyes with safe water if human waste or sewage contacts eyes.
  • Use waterproof gloves to prevent cuts and contact with human waste or sewage.
  • Wear rubber boots at the worksite and during transport of human waste or sewage.
  • Remove rubber boots and work clothes before leaving worksite.
  • Clean contaminated work clothing daily with 0.05% chlorine solution (1 part household bleach to 100 parts water).

Additionally, standard PPE for workers dealing with sewage recommended by the CDC include:

  • Goggles: to protect eyes from splashes of human waste or sewage.
  • Protective face mask or splash-proof face shield: to protect nose and mouth from splashes of human waste or sewage.
  • Liquid-repellent coveralls: to keep human waste or sewage off clothing.
  • Waterproof gloves: to prevent exposure to human waste or sewage.
  • Rubber boots: to prevent exposure to human waste or sewage.

The Water Research Foundation (WRF) has stated SARS-CoV-2 is in the family of viruses most susceptible to environmental conditions and disinfection, as shown in the following diagram:17

The CDC indicates data suggest standard municipal wastewater system disinfection practices may be sufficient to inactivate coronaviruses, including facilities using chlorine where free available chlorine is monitored during treatment to ensure it has not been depleted.15 Previous findings related to SARS indicates that CoV-1 is disinfected when chlorine dosing produces a free chlorine residual between 0.2 and 0.5 mg/L in municipal wastewater.16 The relative susceptibility of viruses similar to SARS-CoV-2 to typical wastewater treatment processes suggests environmental conditions in pulp and paper wastewater treatment systems may reduce virus survival and thus reduce risk to wastewater treatment workers. As a result of the evidence that suggests standard practices are effective in the prevention of COVID-19, the CDC concludes, “No additional COVID-19–specific protections are recommended for employees involved in wastewater management operations, including those at wastewater treatment facilities.18

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  1. Centers for Disease Control. March 7, 2020. Interim US Guidance for Risk Assessment and Public Health Management of Persons with Potential Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Exposures: Geographic Risk and Contacts of Laboratory-confirmed Cases.
  2. Kampf, G. Todt, D. Pfaender, S. Steinmann, E. 2020. Persistence of coronaviruses on inanimate surfaces and their inactivation with biocidal agents. Journal of Hospital Infection 104:246-51.
  3. World Health Organization. March 17, 2020. Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Situation.
  4. Centers for Disease Control. March 15, 2020. Situation Summary.
  5. Chan JF, Yuan S, Kok KH, To KK, Chu H, Yang J, et al. A familial cluster of pneumonia associated with the 2019 novel coronavirus indicating person-to-person transmission: a study of a family cluster. Lancet 2020.
  6. Neeltje van Doremalen, Trenton Bushmaker, Dylan Morris, Myndi Holbrook, Amandine Gamble, Brandi Williamson, Azaibi Tamin, Jennifer Harcourt, Natalie Thornburg, Susan Gerber, Jamie Lloyd-Smith, Emmie de Wit, Vincent Munster. 2020. Aerosol and surface stability of HCoV-19 (SARS-CoV-2) compared to SARS-CoV-1. New England Journal of Medicine Pre-peer review.
  7. Occupational Health and Safety Administration. 2020. Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19. U.S. Department of Labor. OSHA 3990-03 2020.
  8. Ibid., 2
  9. Lai MY, Cheng PK, Lim WW. 2005. Survival of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus. Clinical Infectious Diseases 41:e67e71.
  10. Casanova LM, Jeon S, Rutala WA, Weber DJ, Sobsey MD. 2010. Effects of air temperature and relative humidity on coronavirus survival on surfaces. Applied Environmental Microbiology 76:2712e7.
  11. Ibid., 2
  12. World Health Organization. 2020. Surface sampling of coronavirus disease (COVID-19): A practical “how to” protocol for health care and public health professionals. WHO/2019-nCoV/Environment_protocol/2020.1
  13. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2020. Water Transmission and COVID-19.
  14. Centers for Disease Control. 2015. Guidance for Reducing Health Risks to Workers Handling Human Waste or Sewage.
  15. Ibid., 4
  16. Xin-Wei Wang, Jin-Song Li, Ting-Kai Guo, Bei Zhen, Qing-Xin Kong, Bin Yi, Zhong Li, Nong Song, Min Jin, Wen-Jun Xiao, Xiu-Mei Zhu, Chang-Qing Gu, Jing Yin, Wei Wei, Wei Yao, Chao Liu, Jian-Feng Li, Guo-Rong Ou, Min-Nian Wang, Tong-Yu Fang, Gui-Jie Wang, Yao-Hui Qiu, Huai-Huan Wu, Fu-Huan Chao, Jun-Wen Li Tsang et al. 2005. Concentration and detection of SARS coronavirus in sewage from Xiao Tang Shan Hospital and the 309th Hospital. Journal of Virological Methods  130:1-2,156-161
  17. Water Environment Federation, Current Priority: Coronavirus.
  18. Water Research Foundation, Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Research Update. March 12, 2020 webcast.
  19. Ibid., 4
  20. Centers for Disease Control. 2020. Public Health Responses to COVID-19 Outbreaks on Cruise Ships. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Early Release, Vol 69.