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.
UC, Davis researchers 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. These findings highlight the need to develop approaches that account for relic RNA in environmental monitoring.
Normalized base-pair depth of coverage along the SARS-CoV-2 genome for six high-quality samples from two time points and four sampling surface types