As we move into 2021, the battle to understand how to control, monitor, and prevent the spread of COVID-19 rages on. The progress being made on vaccines has been a huge focus and is obviously a considerable advancement in this fight, but new information is suggesting that surface testing can play a large role, too.
Surface testing is an affordable pathogen tracing method that has been used to detect viruses in food manufacturing and pharmaceutical industries for some time. Now, against the backdrop of COVID-19, a biotech company is employing it as a tactic to determine whether the SARS-CoV-2 virus has entered a building.
Enviral Tech has already adapted the technique at long-term care facilities to provide an additional layer of protection for facility residents and workers. It hopes to soon start using surface testing in other high-residency buildings such as workplaces and offices.
Using data collected a decade ago during the H1N1 pandemic, scientists conducted a study between May and June 2020 at more than 50 care facilities across the United States to test high-touch surfaces like doorknobs, railings, and computers for COVID-19. The researchers found that they could isolate a potential outbreak by tracing the movement of people who encountered a surface before they tested positive for the virus.
“We wanted to bring technology that we had been using in the labs for sort of high-tech work, we wanted to bring it out to make it more available on a wider basis,” scientist and Enviral Tech founder and CEO Shula Jaron said. “We’re not looking to say, ‘is that surface infectious?’ We’re looking to see if it’s telling a story of what’s happening with this group of people.”
At the time of the study, more than 45 per cent of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. were reported at long-term care facilities, which is why they chose to focus initially on those facilities.
“We did indeed pick up [COVID-19] in those facilities,” Jaron said. “They didn’t know they had COVID in those facilities at that time. They were able to turn around really quickly based on our results, and start testing people and identify one or two people in each of those facilities that were asymptomatic… By using the surface testing, we were able to give them an early warning and let them take action before people started showing symptoms.”
Though several vaccines are being deployed around the world, inoculation is far from the whole battle, particularly as mutations of the virus emerge in high-population-density regions like the United Kingdom. Methods like surface testing can be used in conjunction with other infection control measures to curb the spread, says Jaron.
Enviral Tech has now provided surface testing to more than 150 facilities, and Jaron said they’re hoping to expand and make it widely available.
“We need to remember that we can’t let our guard down,” Jaron added. “We can’t stop taking the precautions that we’ve been taking. Because these precautions are so instrumental in helping to keep this from being worse than it is.”