A new study that tested multiple surfaces of a New Jersey oncology unit found no traces of the coronavirus, suggesting that strict cleaning and disinfecting protocols helped limit the virus' spread at the height of the state's outbreak.
Researchers at the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey collected 128 samples from surfaces deemed highest risk for the virus — including door handles, sinks and chairs — in a radiation oncology department at the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, according to the study published Thursday in JAMA Oncology.
The samples were collected over multiple days before scheduled cleaning of the facility during the height of New Jersey's outbreak. The coroanvirus wasn't found on any of the samples.
"We purposely didn't tell anybody in the department that we were doing this study because we didn't want them to be overly cautious and to do things that they wouldn't routinely be doing because we were doing the testing," said Dr. Bruce Haffty, a professor and chairman of the radiation oncology department and a senior author of the study.
"We were masking patients, masking ourselves. We were doing routine hand washing and cleaning and distancing."
The oncology patients were housed in a hospital treating Covid-19 patients, elevating fear that they could be infected with the virus and fall seriously ill or die because they're immunocompromised, Haffty said. Health professionals throughout the pandemic have voiced concern that the coronavirus has prevented people from visiting hospitals and clinics, even for necessary procedures and checkups.
"We've all had to change our lifestyle and change what we do on a day to day basis, but the things that you absolutely need to do ... they don't need to be put off unnecessarily because you're afraid of the environment," he said.
The coronavirus is mainly thought to spread through person-to-person contact when someone sprays respiratory droplets while sneezing, coughing or talking, according to the World Health Organization. However, it's also believed the infection can be transmitted through fomites like clothing and furniture, or by touching inanimate objects or surfaces and then your face, nose or mouth.
Researchers noted that their conclusions were limited since they didn't study other modes of transmission and didn't swab every surface in the unit. They suggest that additional air and surface studies in other environments are needed to better understand how the virus is spread.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests people at home disinfect frequently touched surfaces, including tables, doorknobs, light switches, handles, desks, toilets, faucets, sinks and electronics.