The Association of British Climbing Walls (ABC) commissioned researchers from De Montfort University to test how the novel coronavirus reacts to chalk used on climbing wall holds, and initial results indicated that contact with chalky surfaces immediately reduced the amount of infectious virus by around 99 percent. The research is not yet complete, so the results are not conclusive, but are promising nonetheless.
The study came about through working groups set up by the ABC at the outset of the pandemic. One working group was charged with researching the science behind the virus as it relates to climbing. There were concerns in the climbing community that chalk on climbing-wall holds might act as a reservoir of the novel coronavirus.
The ABC commissioned the team at De Montfort University to undertake the research, led by Dr. Katie Laird, head of the Infectious Disease Research Group; Dr. Maitreyi Shivkumar, virologist; and Dr. Lucy Owen, postdoctoral researcher.
A proxy coronavirus for SARS-CoV-2, human coronavirus OC43, was used for the initial experiments. The presence of infectious coronavirus OC43 on a plastic surface dusted with chalk was monitored over the course of one hour. The results indicated that the amount of virus was reduced by around 99 percent immediately upon contact with the chalky surfaces. By comparison, the control test where no chalk dust was present showed only a slight decline in infectious virus over these time periods.
Dr. Laird confirmed the research does show some promising results, but firm conclusions should wait until the research is complete. The full report is in early August.
“These results look fantastic and show chalk could once again be the climber’s best friend,” said ABC chair Rich Emerson. “We hope that it will provide comfort to our customers as they return to climbing at indoor walls. We will not lessen all our other COVID-safe measures, such as regular hand sanitization and social distancing, but this extra factor should temper fears that chalky handholds could be vectors of the disease. We await the formal scientific report with anticipation.”