Strict Cleaning Protocols Induce Limited Traces of Virus That Causes COVID-19 in Cancer Centers

March 3, 2021
Antonia DePace

The results, according to the study authors, should be reassuring to patients who may have been concerned about the risk of contracting the virus that causes COVID-19 from surfaces in cancer centers.

The presence of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, was significantly low in cancer center units that followed strict mitigation strategies to prevent the spread of the virus, according to data published in Cancer.

“We demonstrated that SARS-CoV-2 presence on environmental surfaces as detected by (polymerase chain reaction) in clinical cancer units was extremely low, especially in the outpatient setting,” the study authors wrote.

In February, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported over 2 million deaths from COVID-19 and over 112 million confirmed cases worldwide. Evidence has demonstrated that COVID-19-related morbidity and mortality is higher in patients with cancer due to their underlying comorbidities and frequent visits to health care facilities. Due to this evidence, patients with cancer have been less frequently seeking medical care — delaying both treatment and diagnosis.

READ MORE: Delaying Cancer Treatment May Increase Risk for Mortality

As a result, researchers aimed to investigate contamination levels of the virus that causes COVID-19 in common areas and surfaces in a tertiary cancer center. The effects of airborne transmission were not examined.

“We assessed surface contamination in multiple outpatient and inpatient hematology/oncology settings that followed strict COVID-19 risk mitigation strategies,” the study authors wrote. The study was conducted at Rutgers University’s COVID-19 referral center in two freestanding outpatient cancer clinic suites, both of which included infusion centers and inpatient units.

Surfaces of the facility were sampled for contamination of SARS-CoV-2 on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays between June 17and 29 — all of which were taken before any scheduled cleaning services. The samples were examined on the same day as collection. Throughout the 12-day period, 204 environmental samples were collected from public, staff and medical equipment areas. The samples were then taken to the lab, where researchers categorized each specimen as either positive, negative or invalid for SARS-CoV-2.

All 166 surfaces that were tested across two outpatient settings were negative for the virus that causes COVID-19. However, there was one positive sample from a surface area from the inpatient COVID-19/person under investigation unit, where an additional 38 samples were collected. Overall, the positive test rate of the virus on common surfaces was 0.5%.

The study authors emphasized that the results show that detailed infection control policies adequately limit environmental surface contamination with the virus that causes COVID-19.

“The results of this study are reassuring and should reduce concerns for patients and health care providers about infection transmission from environmental surfaces in outpatient and inpatient oncology spaces when strict mitigation strategies against SARS-CoV-2 transmission are instituted,” the authors concluded.

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