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mSystems ; 6(6): e0113621, 2021 Dec 21.
Article in English | MEDLINE | ID: covidwho-1494994


Environmental monitoring in public spaces can be used to identify surfaces contaminated by persons with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and inform appropriate infection mitigation responses. Research groups have reported detection of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) on surfaces days or weeks after the virus has been deposited, making it difficult to estimate when an infected individual may have shed virus onto a SARS-CoV-2-positive surface, which in turn complicates the process of establishing effective quarantine measures. In this study, we determined that reverse transcription-quantitative PCR (RT-qPCR) detection of viral RNA from heat-inactivated particles experiences minimal decay over 7 days of monitoring on eight out of nine surfaces tested. The properties of the studied surfaces result in RT-qPCR signatures that can be segregated into two material categories, rough and smooth, where smooth surfaces have a lower limit of detection. RT-qPCR signal intensity (average quantification cycle [Cq]) can be correlated with surface viral load using only one linear regression model per material category. The same experiment was performed with untreated viral particles on one surface from each category, with essentially identical results. The stability of RT-qPCR viral signal demonstrates the need to clean monitored surfaces after sampling to establish temporal resolution. Additionally, these findings can be used to minimize the number of materials and time points tested and allow for the use of heat-inactivated viral particles when optimizing environmental monitoring methods. IMPORTANCE Environmental monitoring is an important tool for public health surveillance, particularly in settings with low rates of diagnostic testing. Time between sampling public environments, such as hospitals or schools, and notifying stakeholders of the results should be minimal, allowing decisions to be made toward containing outbreaks of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). The Safer At School Early Alert program (SASEA) (, a large-scale environmental monitoring effort in elementary school and child care settings, has processed >13,000 surface samples for SARS-CoV-2, detecting viral signals from 574 samples. However, consecutive detection events necessitated the present study to establish appropriate response practices around persistent viral signals on classroom surfaces. Other research groups and clinical labs developing environmental monitoring methods may need to establish their own correlation between RT-qPCR results and viral load, but this work provides evidence justifying simplified experimental designs, like reduced testing materials and the use of heat-inactivated viral particles.