Presymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 Infections and Transmission in a Skilled Nursing Facility

N Engl J Med. 2020 May 28;382(22):2081-2090. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa2008457. Epub 2020 Apr 24.

Abstract

Background: Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection can spread rapidly within skilled nursing facilities. After identification of a case of Covid-19 in a skilled nursing facility, we assessed transmission and evaluated the adequacy of symptom-based screening to identify infections in residents.

Methods: We conducted two serial point-prevalence surveys, 1 week apart, in which assenting residents of the facility underwent nasopharyngeal and oropharyngeal testing for SARS-CoV-2, including real-time reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (rRT-PCR), viral culture, and sequencing. Symptoms that had been present during the preceding 14 days were recorded. Asymptomatic residents who tested positive were reassessed 7 days later. Residents with SARS-CoV-2 infection were categorized as symptomatic with typical symptoms (fever, cough, or shortness of breath), symptomatic with only atypical symptoms, presymptomatic, or asymptomatic.

Results: Twenty-three days after the first positive test result in a resident at this skilled nursing facility, 57 of 89 residents (64%) tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. Among 76 residents who participated in point-prevalence surveys, 48 (63%) tested positive. Of these 48 residents, 27 (56%) were asymptomatic at the time of testing; 24 subsequently developed symptoms (median time to onset, 4 days). Samples from these 24 presymptomatic residents had a median rRT-PCR cycle threshold value of 23.1, and viable virus was recovered from 17 residents. As of April 3, of the 57 residents with SARS-CoV-2 infection, 11 had been hospitalized (3 in the intensive care unit) and 15 had died (mortality, 26%). Of the 34 residents whose specimens were sequenced, 27 (79%) had sequences that fit into two clusters with a difference of one nucleotide.

Conclusions: Rapid and widespread transmission of SARS-CoV-2 was demonstrated in this skilled nursing facility. More than half of residents with positive test results were asymptomatic at the time of testing and most likely contributed to transmission. Infection-control strategies focused solely on symptomatic residents were not sufficient to prevent transmission after SARS-CoV-2 introduction into this facility.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Asymptomatic Diseases*
  • Betacoronavirus / genetics
  • Betacoronavirus / isolation & purification*
  • Comorbidity
  • Coronavirus Infections / complications
  • Coronavirus Infections / diagnosis
  • Coronavirus Infections / mortality
  • Coronavirus Infections / transmission*
  • Cough / etiology
  • Disease Transmission, Infectious* / prevention & control
  • Dyspnea / etiology
  • Female
  • Fever / etiology
  • Genome, Viral
  • Humans
  • Infection Control / methods
  • Male
  • Pandemics
  • Pneumonia, Viral / complications
  • Pneumonia, Viral / diagnosis
  • Pneumonia, Viral / mortality
  • Pneumonia, Viral / transmission*
  • Prevalence
  • Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Skilled Nursing Facilities*
  • Viral Load
  • Washington / epidemiology

Supplementary concepts

  • COVID-19
  • severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2