Presence and Stability of SARS-CoV-2 on Indoor Surfaces and Masks

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Virginia Tech


The emergence of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has resulted in more than 300 million cases and 5 million deaths worldwide and innumerable economic losses. COVID-19 is acknowledged to transmit via air, but whether it is capable of transmitting via contaminated surfaces, also known as fomites, remains controversial. The overarching goal of this study was to investigate the presence and stability of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, on indoor surfaces and masks, and to provide insight into the possibility of fomite transmission. Since most transmission occurs indoors where humans spent 90% of their time, we first focused on quantifying the contamination level of SARS-CoV-2, including both viral RNA and viable virus, on commonly touched surfaces and in the heating, ventilation, and air cleaning (HVAC) systems in two university dormitories. Although we found up to 104 gene copies per ~10×10 cm2 on surfaces, we did not detect any viable virus, suggesting that the possibility of transmission via indoor surfaces is low. As universal masking has been recommended as an effective practice to prevent transmission of SARS-CoV-2, we shifted our focus to masks, both their effectiveness at filtering the virus from the air and their potential to serve as fomites. We evaluated the effectiveness of 11 face coverings for material filtration efficiency, inward protection efficiency on a manikin, and outward protection efficiency on a manikin. Masks made of filter materials, such as vacuum cleaner bag and HVAC filters, achieved a high material filtration efficiency whereas common textiles like cotton and acrylic usually showed the worst performance. The material filtration efficiency was generally positively correlated with either inward or outward protection effectiveness, but stiffer materials were an exception to this relationship as they did not fit as closely to the manikin's face and thus leaked substantially. Subsequently, we analyzed the survival of aerosolized SARS-CoV-2 in saliva on masks. Results suggested that the virus lost infectivity within one hour on an N95 respirator, surgical mask, polyester mask, and two types of cotton masks but not on a nylon/spandex mask. This study also highlighted the importance of applying virus in aerosols of realistic sizes when analyzing the stability of SARS-CoV-2 on surfaces.



SARS-CoV-2, mask, airborne transmission, fomite transmission