Though airborne exposure causes most cases of COVID-19, the virus lurks on objects near the beds of infected nursing home patients, according to a new study.
“Coronavirus is ubiquitous and persistent in the rooms of nursing home residents with COVID-19, and highlight the ongoing importance of rigorous cleaning and protection of staff and visitors,” first author Dr. Lona Mody said in a University of Michigan news release. She leads nursing home infection prevention research at Michigan Medicine in Ann Arbor.
For the study, Mody and her team collected more than 2,000 samples from inside and near the nursing home rooms of 104 COVID patients during a prolonged case surge in Michigan.
Ninety percent of COVID patients’ rooms had detectable SARS-CoV-2 on at least one surface. And the virus was still detectable on some surfaces days later — especially TV remote controls and nurse call buttons.
In all, about 28% of the samples were positive for coronavirus.
While researchers didn’t test the viruses to determine if they were capable of causing an infection, the research can help identify which surfaces need cleaning and inform infection prevention policies.
When patients were more mobile or independent, there was more coronavirus on surfaces, including the bed, TV remote controls, nurse call buttons, windowsills and doorknobs. Very few positive swabs turned up in sitting areas, nurses’ stations and elevator buttons closest to the COVID units.
About one-third of people in the United States who died from COVID were nursing home residents, mostly early in the pandemic. The risk is still significant for unvaccinated patients, staff and visitors, as well as to the chronically ill, frail elderly and recently hospitalized, who may have breakthrough cases of COVID, despite growing vaccination rates.
In the study, all of the patients had been diagnosed with COVID in the past two weeks and were in dedicated COVID units.
The findings were published recently in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on infection control in nursing homes.
SOURCE: Michigan Medicine–University of Michigan, news release, Nov. 16, 2021