Question: During this period of COVID-19 confinement, are plants sold in supermarkets and hardware stores at risk of transmitting the coronavirus?
Answer: The quick answer is: no more than any other commodity on sale. But here is a more detailed answer:
A Commodity Like Any Other
Gift plants (pots of bulbs and indoor plants), cut flowers and pots of herbs can be found in many grocery stores, supermarkets and hardware stores, just as they were before the COVID-19 outbreak. Soon, too, there will be trays of annuals and vegetables. In fact, in milder climes than mine, they’re already on sale. Also, some areas, garden centers are already open for business. After all, edible plants and the products needed to grow them really are an “essential service.” You can’t stop people from feeding themselves!
Authorities do not consider plants to be a serious risk to public health; that’s why their sale has never been curtailed. But no, they’re not 100% safe, nor is any other item being sold.
We already know that the transmission of this virus via objects is very rare, largely because the virus remains fragile outside the human body. In addition, COVID-19 does not multiply on objects, including plants, and ceases to survive soon after it has been ejected from the respiratory system of an infected human being. In three days at most, any COVID-19 virus will have been eliminated.
Also, the virus survives longer on smooth surfaces, like metal and plastic (up to three days) than on “absorbent surfaces,” like plants. On them, the virus is likely to be eliminated within 24 hours. Still, that’s in theory. Better to stay on the safe side and consider three days as the potential viability of a coronavirus on plants.
So, the risk is minimal, even very minimal, but not entirely zero. A sick employee could have left traces of COVID-19 by sneezing or coughing near a plant or handling it. And it’s by manipulating it yourself, then bringing your hand to your mouth, nose or eyes, that there is a risk of transmission. True enough, it’s a very minor risk, but still a risk.
So, What to Do?
If you are going to shop for the plant yourself, wash your hands before and after buying it. At home, clean the pot with soapy water and place the plant wherever you want. Then wash your hands again. After, don’t touch it for three days.
If you have a plant delivered to your home, again, wash the pot with soapy water, then thoroughly wash your hands. And again, don’t touch the plant for three days. Or instead, leave the plant in its packaging for three days before opening it.
After this three-day quarantine, you can touch the plant as often as you like, even give it a big, welcoming hug! There is no longer any risk to your health.