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Coronavirus

Massachusetts researchers: public surfaces might give clues to COVID-19 spread

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Local public health officials interested in how and where the new coronavirus is spreading might want to monitor the amounts of virus on “high-touch” surfaces in their communities, a new study suggests.

From April to June, during a COVID-19 outbreak in one Massachusetts town, researchers swabbed 348 nonporous surfaces that frequently get touched by the public. Twenty-nine swabs, or 8.3 percent, were positive for the virus, including crosswalk buttons, trash can handles, and door handles at entrances to essential businesses like grocery stores, liquor stores, banks, and gas stations.

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In a report posted on Sunday on medRxiv ahead of peer review, the researchers note that the amount of virus on the surfaces was minimal and the risk of infection from touching one is extremely low. But the prevalence of the virus on high-touch surfaces in public spaces and essential businesses “reflected, and may even lead, local COVID-19 case numbers by one week,” they said. “Our findings demonstrate the potential for environmental surveillance of high-touch surfaces to inform disease dynamics during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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