OPEN medRxiv : the preprint server for health sciences | 4 Nov 2020
AP Harvey, ER Fuhrmeister, M Cantrell, AK Pitol, JM Swarthout, JE Powers, ML Nadimpalli, TR Julian and AJ Pickering
Environmental surveillance of surface contamination is an unexplored tool for understanding transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in community settings. We conducted longitudinal swab sampling of high-touch non-porous surfaces in a Massachusetts town during a COVID-19 outbreak from April to June 2020. Twenty-nine of 348 (8.3 %) surface samples were positive for SARS-CoV-2, including crosswalk buttons, trash can handles, and door handles of essential business entrances (grocery store, liquor store, bank, and gas station). The estimated risk of infection from touching a contaminated surface was low (less than 5 in 10,000), suggesting fomites play a minimal role in SARS-CoV-2 community transmission. The weekly percentage of positive samples (out of n=33 unique surfaces per week) best predicted variation in city-level COVID-19 cases using a 7-day lead time. Environmental surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 RNA on high-touch surfaces could be a useful tool to provide early warning of COVID-19 case trends.
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