More than 45% of all domestic COVID-19 fatalities have taken place in long-term care settings, and the response to outbreaks has been complicated by a lack of personal protective equipment and sufficient human-testing resources.
The high rate of asymptomatic spreaders of the disease makes screening programs largely ineffective, and more than half of carriers shedding the virus do not display symptoms. In an added effort to combat the spread, scientists have developed technologies that allow facilities to test for sick buildings, which can serve as smoke alarms for viral pathogens like COVID-19.
Here at Enviral Tech, a biotechnology company focused on environmental viral surveillance solutions, we led the largest study to date centered around COVID-19 outbreak prevention in long-term care communities.
It focused on surface testing.
Over a five-week period, we tested roughly 2,600 samples from more than 600 surfaces in 52 communities across six states to determine if outbreaks can be detected earlier by monitoring the environment for the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Each facility was asked to select eight surfaces according to guidelines consistent with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations — including high-touch surfaces such as doorknobs, railings and computer peripherals — and swab them two times each week. The samples were collected by staff members of the tested facilities and shipped overnight to Enviral Tech’s lab; results were delivered within 12-24 hours of arrival to the lab.
As a result, 34.6% of facilities showed a positive test result on at least one surface and four potential outbreaks were detected.
“The best thing that the surface testing has done is it has allowed us to detect if we have COVID in the building so much sooner than without, thereby causing two things to happen,” explained Steve Fogg, CFO of Marquis Companies, a senior care and senior living provider. “One, it allows us to isolate a smaller group of people, i.e. those that have been touching that surface, which nearly always has led to a positive test of an actual staff person. Second, we can detect that we have a positive individual in the building so much faster that it limits the kind of mass spreading of the COVID.”
While Enviral Tech has been able to identify early the impact that this form of testing can have on communities, the problem the company we are really looking to solve is accessibility.
In August, we launched COVID-19 Surface Check kits, which can be used on any surface or in any environment for early detection of the virus to ensure the health of communities, prevent new infection, and restore consumer confidence. Since then, more than 150 facilities across the United State have working with our lab to conduct upwards of 20,000 tests.
Shula Jaron, Ph.D., is the CEO and co-founder of Enviral Tech.