Environmental screening for SARS-CoV-2 in long term care facilities: lessons from a pilot study: version 1; peer review: awaiting peer review

Rachel Kwiatkowska*, Nicola Yaxley, Ginny Moore, Allan Bennett, Matthew C Donati, Nicola Love, Roberto Vivancos, Matthew R Hickman, Derren Ready

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)

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Background: The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has highlighted the risk of infection transmission in long-term care facilities (LTCF) and the vulnerability of resident populations. It is essential to understand the environmental spread of the virus and risk of indirect transmission to inform Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) measures in these settings.

Methods: Upon notification of SARS-CoV-2 outbreaks, LTCF within a local authority in the South West of England were approached to take part in this pilot study. Investigators visited to swab common touch-points and elevated ‘non-touch’ surfaces and samples were analysed for presence of SARS-CoV-2 genetic material (RNA). Data were collected regarding LTCF infrastructure, staff behaviours, clinical and epidemiological risk factors for infection (staff and residents), and IPC measures.
Criteria for success were: recruitment of three LTCF; detection of SARS-COV-2 RNA; variation in proportion of SARS-CoV-2 positive surfaces by sampling zone; potential to assess infection risk from SARS-CoV-2 positive surfaces.

Results: Three LTCFs were recruited, ranging in size and resident demographics. Outbreaks lasted 63, 50 and 30 days with resident attack rates of 53%, 40% and 8%, respectively. The proportion of sample sites on which SARS-CoV-2 was detected was highest in rooms occupied by infected residents and varied elsewhere in the LTCF, with low levels in a facility implementing enhanced IPC measures. The heterogeneity of settings and difficulty obtaining data made it difficult to assess association between environmental contamination and infection. Elevated surfaces were more likely to test positive for SARS-CoV-2 RNA than common touch-points.

Conclusions: SARS-CoV-2 RNA can be detected in a variety of LTCF outbreak settings. We identified variation in environmental spread which could be associated with implementation of IPC measures, though we were unable to assess the impact on infection risk. Sampling elevated surfaces could add to ongoing public health surveillance for SARS-CoV-2 and other airborne pathogens in LTCF.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages14
JournalWellcome Open Research
Publication statusPublished - 15 Sept 2021


  • infection control
  • infectious disease transmission
  • epidemiologic methods
  • long-term care
  • disease outbreaks
  • fomites
  • environmental exposure


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