Routine cleaning and disinfecting leaves no trace of coronavirus on surfaces in hospital clinic, study finds

A hospital staff sanitizes the premisis inside the new covid hospital at Sector 39, on August 7, 2020 in Noida, India.

Sunil Ghosh | Hindustan Times via Getty Images

A new study that tested multiple surfaces of a New Jersey oncology unit found no traces of the coronavirus, suggesting that strict cleaning and disinfecting protocols helped limit the virus’ spread at the height of the state’s outbreak. 

Researchers at the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey collected 128 samples from surfaces deemed highest risk for the virus — including door handles, sinks, chairs and so forth — in a radiation oncology department within the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, according to the study published in JAMA Oncology Thursday.

The samples were collected over multiple days before scheduled cleaning of the facility during the height of New Jersey’s outbreak. The coroanvirus wasn’t found on any of the samples, the study found. 

“We purposely didn’t tell anybody in the department that we were doing this study because we didn’t want them to be overly cautious and to do things that they wouldn’t routinely be doing because we were doing the testing,” said Dr. Bruce Haffty, a professor and chairman of the radiation oncology department at the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and a senior author of the study.

“We were masking patients, masking ourselves. We were doing routine hand washing and cleaning and distancing,” he said.

The patients at the oncology unit were housed in a hospital treating Covid-19 patients, elevating fear that they could be infected with the coronavirus and fall seriously ill or die because they’re immunocompromised, Haffty said. Health care professionals throughout the pandemic have voiced concern that the coronavirus has prevented people from visiting hospitals and clinics, even for necessary procedures and checkups. 

“We’ve all had to change our lifestyle and change what we do on a day to day basis, but the things that you absolutely need to do… they don’t need to be put off unnecessarily because you’re afraid of the environment,” he said. 

The coronavirus is mainly thought to spread through person-to-person contact when someone sprays respiratory droplets while sneezing, coughing or talking, according to the World Health Organization. However, it’s also believed the infection can be transmitted through fomites, or by touching inanimate objects or surfaces and then your face, nose or mouth. 

Researchers noted that their conclusions were limited since the didn’t study other modes of transmission, and didn’t swab every surface in the unit. The authors of the study suggest additional air and surface studies in other environments to better grasp the role play in the coronavirus’ spread. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests people at home disinfect frequently touched surfaces, including tables, doorknobs, light switches, handles, desks, toilets, faucets, sinks and electronics.