Study documents how environment is contaminated by COVID-19 patients

Posted at 11:40 AM, Mar 29, 2020

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — A recent study done by UNMC/Nebraska Medicine/NSRI researchers provides new insight on how the virus that causes COVID-19 is spread.

According to Nebraska Medicine, the study found high levels of contamination on commonly used surfaces and in the air of rooms of COVID-19 patients.

Additionally, air samplers from hallways outside of rooms were also positive, where staff were moving in and out of doors.

Nebraska Medicine said the study suggests COVID-19 patients -- even those who are mildly ill -- may create aerosols of the virus and contaminate surfaces that could create risk for transmission.

“Our findings show how important it is for health care workers providing direct care to these patients to take enhanced transmission precautions,” said John Lowe, PhD, vice chancellor for Inter-professional Health Security Training and Education. “That means wearing the proper personal protective equipment, using negative air pressure rooms for these patients whenever possible and being mindful about the method of entering and exiting these rooms.”

Air and surface samples were collected in eleven isolation rooms to examine environmental contamination during the initial isolation of 13 people with COVID-19.

Various commonly used items, toilet facilities and air samples showed evidence of the virus, indicating SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) is "widely disseminated in the environment," according to Nebraska Medicine.

The findings indicate that the disease may be spread through direct (droplet, person-to-person) and indirect contact (contaminated objects, airborne transmission). These findings suggest airborne isolation precautions could be appropriate.

“Our team was already taking airborne precautions with the initial patients we cared for,” said James Lawler, MD, infectious diseases expert and director of the Global Center for Health Security at UNMC. “This report reinforces our suspicions. It’s why we have maintained COVID patients in rooms equipped with negative air flow and will continue to make efforts to do so – even with an increase in the number of patients. Our health care workers providing care will be equipped with the appropriate level of personal protective equipment. Obviously, more research is required to be able to characterize environmental risk.”

Their findings do not confirm that the virus is airborne-spread. More studies are underway and additional evidence is needed to determine the risk of airborne transmission.

The investigative team urges careful environmental cleaning and disinfection of surfaces.

See the full study here.

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