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SARS-CoV-2 RNA Is Readily Detectable at Least 8 Months after Shedding in an Isolation Facility


Environmental monitoring of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) for research and public health purposes has grown exponentially throughout the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. Monitoring wastewater for SARS-CoV-2 provides early warning signals of virus spread and information on trends in infections at a community scale. Indoor environmental monitoring (e.g., swabbing of surfaces and air filters) to identify potential outbreaks is less common, and the evidence for its utility is mixed. A significant challenge with surface and air filter monitoring in this context is the concern of "relic RNA," noninfectious RNA found in the environment that is not from recently deposited virus. Here, we report detection of SARS-CoV-2 RNA on surfaces in an isolation unit (a university dorm room) for up to 8 months after a COVID-19-positive individual vacated the space. Comparison of sequencing results from the same location over two time points indicated the presence of the entire viral genome, and sequence similarity confirmed a single source of the virus. Our findings highlight the need to develop approaches that account for relic RNA in environmental monitoring. IMPORTANCE Environmental monitoring of SARS-CoV-2 is rapidly becoming a key tool in infectious disease research and public health surveillance. Such monitoring offers a complementary and sometimes novel perspective on population-level incidence dynamics relative to that of clinical studies by potentially allowing earlier, broader, more affordable, less biased, and less invasive identification. Environmental monitoring can assist public health officials and others when deploying resources to areas of need and provides information on changes in the pandemic over time. Environmental surveillance of the genetic material of infectious agents (RNA and DNA) in wastewater became widely applied during the COVID-19 pandemic. There has been less research on other types of environmental samples, such as surfaces, which could be used to indicate that someone in a particular space was shedding virus. One challenge with surface surveillance is that the noninfectious genetic material from a pathogen (e.g., RNA from SARS-CoV-2) may be detected in the environment long after an infected individual has left the space. This study aimed to determine how long SARS-CoV-2 RNA could be detected in a room after a COVID-positive person had been housed there.

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