Evidence suggests that SARS-CoV-2, as well as other coronaviruses, can be dispersed and potentially transmitted by aerosols directly or via ventilation systems. We therefore investigated ventilation openings in one COVID-19 ward and central ducts that expel indoor air from three COVID-19 wards at Uppsala University Hospital, Sweden, during April and May 2020. Swab samples were taken from individual ceiling ventilation openings and surfaces in central ducts. Samples were subsequently subjected to rRT-PCR targeting the N and E genes of SARS-CoV-2. Central ventilation HEPA filters, located several stories above the wards, were removed and portions analyzed in the same manner. In two subsequent samplings, SARS-CoV-2 N and E genes were detected in seven and four out of 19 room vents, respectively. Central ventilation HEPA exhaust filters from the ward were found positive for both genes in three samples. Corresponding filters from two other, adjacent COVID-19 wards were also found positive. Infective ability of the samples was assessed by inoculation of susceptible cell cultures but could not be determined in these experiments. Detection of SARS-CoV-2 in central ventilation systems, distant from patient areas, indicate that virus can be transported long distances and that droplet transmission alone cannot reasonably explain this, especially considering the relatively low air change rates in these wards. Airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2 must be taken into consideration for preventive measures.
August 2, 2020
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