Depending on the surface type, the time the Omicron variant of COVID-19 may stay on a surface varies. However, it appears to stay on surfaces longer than the other virus variants.

As the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 continues to cause COVID-19 cases around the world, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says new virus variants are to be expected.

This includes Omicron (B.1.1.529). It was first described by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a “variant of concern” in November 2021 after the first cases were identified in South Africa before it subsequently spread throughout the world.

Notably, the Omicron variant does not appear to cause the same level of severe illness as previous coronavirus variants, especially in people who have been vaccinated. However, the CDC also notes that Omicron is much more transmissible and can live on surfaces longer.

Researchers continue to investigate the ways Omicron is transmitted. They’re also looking into possible transmission from surfaces.

Here’s what you need to know about whether Omicron can stick to surfaces, and what you can do to help protect yourself.

While the CDC notes that Omicron can be transmitted more easily, research is just beginning to uncover some of its transmission mechanisms.

According to a 2020 clinical letter, the original SARS-CoV-2 variant was detected for up to 72 hours on plastics and 48 hours on stainless steel. Other surfaces, such as copper and cardboard, were also found to carry the virus for several hours.

As the coronavirus has evolved, researchers also believe newer variants like Omicron are more transmissible and may have longer life spans on various surfaces than other variants.

A 2022 preprint study investigated the survival times of coronavirus variants on both plastic surfaces and skin. Overall, researchers found the original variant had the shortest life span, while Omicron survived the longest.

How long does Omicron last on plastic?

Results from that 2022 preprint study showed that the Omicron variant could survive on plastic surfaces for 193.5 hours. This was the longest survival time compared with previous variants:

  • Original: 56 hours
  • Alpha: 191.3 hours
  • Beta: 156.6 hours
  • Delta: 114 hours
  • Gamma: 59.3 hours

Such data suggests that Omicron lives the longest on plastic, with Alpha coming in as a close second.

How long does Omicron last on skin?

Researchers also investigated the ability of the same variants to stay on human skin. Again, the Omicron variant lasted the longest on skin at 21.1 hours.

The following is the amount of time other variants were found to last on skin:

  • Original: 8.6 hours
  • Alpha: 19.6 hours
  • Beta: 19.1 hours
  • Delta: 16.8 hours
  • Gamma: 11 hours

The data suggests that Omicron is the most transmissible coronavirus variant on the skin, followed by Alpha and Beta, then Delta and Gamma.

A note on scientific methods

While the aforementioned study is helpful when comparing Omicron’s longevity on surfaces with previous coronavirus variants, researchers also explain the limitations of their findings. They note that:

  • the overall reasons why each variant had environmental stability are unknown
  • factors in the external environment might be of influence
  • the overall amount of the virus and its precise risk of transmission is unknown

Additionally, as of October 2022, the study is still awaiting peer review.

Was this helpful?

In early 2022, Omicron quickly became the dominant coronavirus variant due to its rapid spread. While scientists know that Omicron is transmitted easier than previous variants, it’s not known for certain whether its longer persistence on surfaces is the underlying cause of more infections.

Researchers in the 2022 study discussed above do suggest that Omicron’s environmental stability could have possibly played a role in its rapid spread in early 2022.

Another 2022 study confirms that Omicron has an increased airborne transmission rate than previous variants. Additionally, Omicron is known to have some amount of possible immunological escape of antibodies obtained from either vaccines or a previous coronavirus infection.

This means that even if people were vaccinated against COVID-19, they can still contract the Omicron variant.

However, until more research is done, it’s not clear whether there’s a direct correlation between an increased number of COVID-19 cases and Omicron’s environmental stability on surfaces.

As information about Omicron and other coronavirus variants continues to be explored, consider the key facts to protect yourself against possible transmission from surfaces.

Can you get COVID-19 by touching a surface?

Scientists don’t yet know the exact likelihood of getting COVID-19 from touching a contaminated surface.

Overall, contracting an infection from surfaces may be more likely with the Omicron variant due to its life span, but this is still far less likely than airborne or droplet transmission, as well as direct contact.

As the CDC notes, much of this depends on some of the following unknown information:

  • the amount of time the virus may be on a surface before you come into contact with it
  • whether any environmental factors, such as heat, may damage the virus, making it less potent
  • the overall efficiency of the virus being transferred on your hands between a surface and your mucous membranes, like your nose or eyes
  • how much of the virus is actually needed to cause an infection

As a rule of thumb, try to avoid touching your face until you’ve washed your hands. This may help reduce the likelihood of getting sick from contaminated surfaces you may have previously touched.

How do you protect surfaces against COVID-19?

It’s important to regularly clean and disinfect surfaces to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses.

Cleaning surfaces with soap and water may damage the coronavirus to some extent. However, you may consider following with a disinfectant that’s approved to kill coronaviruses and other germs. To do this, check the label of your disinfecting wipes or spray.

Frequent handwashing is one of the best ways you can prevent possible transmission of the coronavirus from surfaces to your skin.

If soap and water are unavailable, use a hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol, and then wash your hands as soon as you can.

The most recent research on the Omicron variant suggests that it lives longer on surfaces than previous variants.

However, other important information still isn’t clear yet. This includes whether a longer life span on surfaces means Omicron causes more infections.

In the meantime, you can consider talking with a doctor about strategies to protect yourself from getting sick from Omicron and other coronavirus variants. Steps may include frequent handwashing, disinfecting common surfaces, and staying up to date on recommended vaccinations.