In a radiation oncology department, systematic testing of environmental surfaces did not reveal any detectable severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) RNA, according to results from a research letter published in JAMA Oncology.

Although there have been several studies that have investigated environmental contamination in health care settings where patients with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) are treated, evaluation of settings where patients with COVID-19 are less frequently treated requires additional research.

A group of researchers conducted a quality improvement study in a radiation oncology department at a large tertiary care COVID-19 referral center in New Jersey. From May 1, 2020, to May 13, 2020, environmental swabbing, using the World Health Organization protocols for surface sampling, was conducted 3 times a week. Sampling areas that were targeted were those that had more frequency of use and patient contact.

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Samples were taken from patient areas (80 samples), staff areas (19 samples), and department equipment (29). Of the 128 environmental samples that were collected from the radiation oncology department, none of the samples were positive for SARS-CoV-2; 15 of the samples were taken from objects used by patients with COVID-19, however, these samples were also all negative for SARS-CoV-2.

“We believe that the appropriate patient care should not be delayed because of the pandemic,” the investigators wrote. “The results of this study suggest that following strict prevention protocols and routine cleaning and disinfecting seem adequate for limiting surface contamination with SARS-CoV-2,” they added.

The authors noted several limitations to the study including the lack of air sample collection. Additionally, because of the nature of such sampling, they were unable to sample 100% of surfaces, which may reduce sensitivity of the analysis.

“Additional surface and air studies in varied environments are needed to better understand the role of environmental factors in spreading COVID-19,” they concluded.


Jan I, Chen K, Sayan R, et al. Prevalence of surface contamination with SARS-CoV-2 in a radiation oncology clinic. JAMA Oncol. Published online August 27, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2020.3552