The power of detecting COVID-19 outbreaks sooner

 

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COVID cases are skyrocketing once again around the world including specifically the United States, which has seen a case count increase of over 61% in the last 14 days according to TIME’s coronavirus tracker. On November 12th, more than 150,000 cases of COVID-19 were reported in the United States, which puts us at the top of the list of the worse-hit nations in the world.

 

At Enviral Tech, we have been supporting community leaders seeking tools for the early detection of the virus since the early days of the pandemic. The leaders have wanted to get ahead of an outbreak by detecting asymptomatic people within groups without having to perform costly and invasive individual tests every week.

 

The popularity of COVID-19 environmental surveillance via surface testing has continued to increase since March 2020, and was given a second boost as it became clear that asymptomatic staff members represented the highest risk of outbreak in communities. Those communities, such as senior facilities and schools, also happen to experience staffing limitations, prompting them to search for a way to quickly and drastically limit the spread of COVID-19 within their precious staff resources. Worse is when staff often work between multiple facilities, which can spread the virus from facility to facility.

 

Since the start of the pandemic, we have been doing environmental testing of upwards of 20,000 surface tests, alerting community leaders of the presence of a COVID-19 infected person often days before individual test rounds or symptoms would have. Based on a study led by Utrecht University in the Netherlands, it stands to reason that multiple days of early warning likely prevented the transmission of COVID-19 from 40% to 80% within those communities.

 

“The best thing that the surface testing has done is it has allowed us to detect if we have COVID in the building so much sooner than without, thereby causing two things to happen,” says Steve Fogg, CFO of Marquis Companies, leader in senior care and senior living. “One, it allows us to isolate a smaller group of people, i.e. those that have been touching that surface, which nearly always has led to a positive test of an actual staff person. Second, we can detect that we have a positive individual in the building so much faster that it limits the kind of the mass spreading of the COVID.”

 

The graphs below show the average of positive COVID-19 tests delivered by Enviral Tech for environmental surface samples obtained mostly from senior care communities across the U.S. (upper panel, source Enviral Tech) and the number of COVID-19 cases in nursing homes (lower panel, Associated Press with data from the University of Chicago). A quick comparison of those graphs shows a nearly identical trend over the last couple of months, which highlights the power of surface testing to detect COVID-19 outbreak within communities. Testing a surface accessed by a limited group of people and finding positives enables a rapid and targeted contact tracing effort. The result is a quicker identification of community members that have been shedding the virus. Used in that manner, surface testing is equivalent to pooled individual testing -- a popular practice which involves mixing human samples to test a group of people in order to reduce cost -- but without the burden of properly collecting samples for every single member of that group.

 

 

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