Ambient temperature and humidity strongly affect inactivation rates of enveloped viruses, but a mechanistic, quantitative theory of these effects has been elusive. We measure the stability of SARS-CoV-2 on an inert surface at nine temperature and humidity conditions and develop a mechanistic model to explain and predict how temperature and humidity alter virus inactivation. We find SARS-CoV-2 survives longest at low temperatures and extreme relative humidities (RH); median estimated virus half-life is >24 hr at 10°C and 40% RH, but ∼1.5 hr at 27°C and 65% RH. Our mechanistic model uses fundamental chemistry to explain why inactivation rate increases with increased temperature and shows a U-shaped dependence on RH. The model accurately predicts existing measurements of five different human coronaviruses, suggesting that shared mechanisms may affect stability for many viruses. The results indicate scenarios of high transmission risk, point to mitigation strategies, and advance the mechanistic study of virus transmission.


This is an open-access article, free of all copyright, and may be freely reproduced, distributed, transmitted, modified, built upon, or otherwise used by anyone for any lawful purpose. The work is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/

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Morris, D., Yinda, K., Gamble, A., Rossine, F., Huang, Q., Bushmaker, T., Fischer, R., Matson, M., Van Doremalen, N., Vikesland, P., Marr, L., Munster, V. & Lloyd-Smith, J. 2021, 'Mechanistic theory predicts the effects of temperature and humidity on inactivation of SARS-CoV-2 and other enveloped viruses', eLife, 10, article no: e65902. https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.65902

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Last updated: 30 March 2023
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