Contaminated hospital surfaces pose low risk of COVID-19 spread, study finds

There is a low risk of COVID-19 spreading through contaminated hospital surfaces, a study published June 24 in PLOS One found.

Researchers at the University of California Davis Medical Center in Sacramento analyzed samples from frequently used surfaces in the intensive care unit and staff meeting areas during the first two COVID-19 waves in spring and summer 2020. 

About 11 percent of swabs tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 in April 2020. This figure fell to 2 percent in August 2020, even though the hospital saw a significant increase in COVID-19 patients during the second surge. This reduction was likely due to improved ICU patient management and cleaning protocols, according to study author Angela Haczku, MD, PhD, a respiratory immunologist and director of the UC Davis Lung Center. 

Researchers were also able to detect SARS-CoV-2 RNA from samples that had previously tested negative via polymerase chain reaction testing. The RNA picked up from surfaces contained near-intact genomic sequences, but were not infectious, they found. 

"For the first time, to our knowledge, we were able to determine the viral genome sequence from surface swab samples obtained in a hospital environment," study author David Coil, PhD, project scientist at the UC Davis Genome Center, said in a news release. 

The findings support the hypothesis that contaminated surfaces are not a huge mode of transmission for COVID-19. The ability to identify viral genome sequences from surfaces could also help with outbreak surveillance and variant monitoring, the study authors said.

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