Collection of SARS-CoV-2 Virus from the Air of a Clinic Within a University Student Health Care Center and Analyses of the Viral Genomic Sequence

Aerosol Air Qual Res. 2020 Jun;20(6):1167-1171. doi: 10.4209/aaqr.2020.02.0202. Epub 2020 May 25.


The progression of COVID-19 worldwide can be tracked by identifying mutations within the genomic sequence of SARS-CoV-2 that occur as a function of time. Such efforts currently rely on sequencing the genome of SARS-CoV-2 in patient specimens (direct sequencing) or of virus isolated from patient specimens in cell cultures. A pilot SARS-CoV-2 air sampling study conducted at a clinic within a university student health care center detected the virus vRNA, with an estimated concentration of 0.87 virus genomes L-1 air. To determine whether the virus detected was viable ('live'), attempts were made to isolate the virus in cell cultures. Virus-induced cytopathic effects (CPE) were observed within two days post-inoculation of Vero E6 cells with collection media from air samples; however, rtRT-PCR tests for SARS-CoV-2 vRNA from cell culture were negative. Instead, three other fast-growing human respiratory viruses were isolated and subsequently identified, illustrating the challenge in isolating SARS-CoV-2 when multiple viruses are present in a test sample. The complete SAR-CoV-2 genomic sequence was nevertheless determined by Sanger sequencing and most closely resembles SARS-CoV-2 genomes previously described in Georgia, USA. Results of this study illustrate the feasibility of tracking progression of the COVID-19 pandemic using environmental aerosol samples instead of human specimens. Collection of a positive sample from a distance more than 2 m away from the nearest patient traffic implies the virus was in an aerosol.

Keywords: COVID-19; aerosol; air sampling.