Bioaerosol Sampling for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) in a Referral Center with Critically Ill Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Patients March-May 2020

Clin Infect Dis. 2021 Oct 5;73(7):e1790-e1794. doi: 10.1093/cid/ciaa1880.


Background: Previous research has shown that rooms of patients with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) present the potential for healthcare-associated transmission through aerosols containing severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2). However, data on the presence of these aerosols outside of patient rooms are limited. We investigated whether virus-containing aerosols were present in nursing stations and patient room hallways in a referral center with critically ill COVID-19 patients.

Methods: Eight National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health BC 251 2-stage cyclone samplers were set up throughout 6 units, including nursing stations and visitor corridors in intensive care units and general medical units, for 6 h each sampling period. Samplers were placed on tripods which held 2 samplers positioned 102 cm and 152 cm above the floor. Units were sampled for 3 days. Extracted samples underwent reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction for selected gene regions of the SARS-CoV-2 virus nucleocapsid and the housekeeping gene human RNase P as an internal control.

Results: The units sampled varied in the number of laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 patients present on the days of sampling. Some of the units included patient rooms under negative pressure, while most were maintained at a neutral pressure. Of 528 aerosol samples collected, none were positive for SARS-CoV-2 RNA by the estimated limit of detection of 8 viral copies/m3 of air.

Conclusions: Aerosolized SARS-CoV-2 outside of patient rooms was undetectable. While healthcare personnel should avoid unmasked close contact with each other, these findings may provide reassurance for the use of alternatives to tight-fitting respirators in areas outside of patient rooms during the current pandemic.

Keywords: COVID-19; aerosols; airborne transmission; hospital.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Critical Illness
  • Humans
  • RNA, Viral / genetics
  • Referral and Consultation
  • SARS-CoV-2*
  • United States


  • RNA, Viral