To protect the public, officials in the Empire State and elsewhere should immediately suspend their plastic bag bans.
Much remains unknown about Covid-19, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it “may remain viable for hours to days on surfaces made from a variety of materials.”
Reusable shopping bags may harbor the virus and could facilitate its spread in grocery stores and pharmacies that remain open even as workplaces, schools and restaurants shutter.
Yet in California, New York, Seattle and elsewhere, plastic bags are banned and shoppers are urged to rely on reusable bags.
Experience shows the risks.
In 2013 millions of American piglets died amid an outbreak of novel swine enteric coronavirus disease, and after an investigation the U.S. Department of Agricultureconcluded that reusable feed totes were the most likely root cause.
The feed bags are often made of the same kind of material as reusable shopping bags.
In 2010 several Oregon teens and adults fell ill after attending a soccer tournament, prompting an investigation by Kimberly Repp of the Oregon Health and Science University and William Keene of the Oregon Public Health Division.
They traced the sickness to a reusable grocery bag, “which had been stored in a bathroom used before the outbreak by a person with a norovirus-like illness,” they wrote in a 2012 study for the Journal of Infectious Diseases.
Soccer players and chaperones contracted the virus after touching the contaminated bag or eating cookies, chips or grapes carried in it.
Researchers at the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University surveyed grocery shoppers and randomly tested their reusable bags.
“Large numbers of bacteria were found in almost all bags and coliform bacteria in half,” they wrote in their 2011 study, funded in part by the American Chemistry Council and published in Food Protection Trends.
No wonder, since the majority of shoppers said they rarely or never washed them.
Americans are embracing extraordinary precautions to slow the spread of coronavirus.
Until this pandemic passes, state and local officials should discourage shoppers from bringing their potentially virus-laden reusable bags out in public.
Restore single-use bags, including the plastic kind.