Investigating Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) Surface and Air Contamination in an Acute Healthcare Setting During the Peak of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Pandemic in London

Clin Infect Dis. 2021 Oct 5;73(7):e1870-e1877. doi: 10.1093/cid/ciaa905.


Background: We evaluated severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) surface and air contamination during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic in London.

Methods: Prospective, cross-sectional, observational study in a multisite London hospital. Air and surface samples were collected from 7 clinical areas occupied by patients with COVID-19 and a public area of the hospital. Three or four 1.0-m3 air samples were collected in each area using an active air sampler. Surface samples were collected by swabbing items in the immediate vicinity of each air sample. SARS-CoV-2 was detected using reverse-transcription quantitative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and viral culture; the limit of detection for culturing SARS-CoV-2 from surfaces was determined.

Results: Viral RNA was detected on 114 of 218 (52.3%) surfaces and in 14 of 31 (38.7%) air samples, but no virus was cultured. Viral RNA was more likely to be found in areas immediately occupied by COVID-19 patients than in other areas (67 of 105 [63.8%] vs 29 of 64 [45.3%]; odds ratio, 0.5; 95% confidence interval, 0.2-0.9; P = .025, χ2 test). The high PCR cycle threshold value for all samples (>30) indicated that the virus would not be culturable.

Conclusions: Our findings of extensive viral RNA contamination of surfaces and air across a range of acute healthcare settings in the absence of cultured virus underlines the potential risk from environmental contamination in managing COVID-19 and the need for effective use of personal protective equipment, physical distancing, and hand/surface hygiene.

Keywords: COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; air contamination; surface contamination; transmission.

Publication types

  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Humans
  • London / epidemiology
  • Pandemics
  • Prospective Studies
  • SARS-CoV-2*