UPDATE: Please see our updated blog post on the available testing options for coronavirus in the environment.
Anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock for the past few months has heard about the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. As the virus has spread around the world, it seems like the news updates about this disease have been developing by the hour. With many different governments managing the virus within their borders, researchers and public health professionals working on vaccines and response plans, and the endless news cycle it has been hard to keep up with all the developments. As indoor environmental professionals, we have people ask, “can you test for the virus at my house?”
How does COVID-19 spread?
Scientists have found out that the virus travels via droplets in the air from infected people’s coughs and sneezes. It is unclear exactly how long the virus can live on a surface, but we know that it can remain viable on surfaces for hours or even days. Since it is still difficult to actually be tested personally for the virus in the US, some people have started to wonder if it is possible to detect the virus in the air or on surfaces in their home or workplace.
How do the tests work?
The technology commonly used in clinical sampling for the SARS-CoV-2 virus in humans is PCR, polymerase chain reaction. This is a common test that is used in all sorts of fields, including the indoor environmental field. This test is a rapid way to detect the genetic material of the virus. It uses unique compounds that seek out the RNA of the virus exclusively, amplifies the genetic material, and “marks” it with a special dye that can be detected by the laboratory. This technology is what is behind environmental testing like ERMI mold testing, sewage bacteria swabs, and more. Theoretically, it should be possible to use this type of testing for environmental testing. However, there is a shortage of test kits available for clinical use, so the manufacturers are not making any available to environmental labs for surface or air testing for the foreseeable future.
So to answer the question in the simplest of terms: No, at this time we can not test your home or office for the COVID-19 virus. The only available test kits are being used to detect the virus in humans, and as of now, there is no expected timeline for the availability of an environmental test for the virus. Although we cannot detect the virus directly, we can evaluate surface cleanliness and determine if it meets an industry cleanliness standard.
The best thing to do is to follow the advice of trusted public health organizations like the CDC and WHO for information on how to protect yourself and your family from the virus. Information is very rapidly changing in this case, so be sure to check periodically and look for the most recent information to stay up to date.