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Test kit finds coronavirus on surfaces in West Michigan

Posted at 10:32 PM, Aug 26, 2020

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A new test kit allows anyone to see if COVID-19 is living on surfaces you might be touching everyday.

California-based Phylagen developed a test that allows you to detect coronavirus. The process is simple. You can order a test kit of 10 or 25 samples. First you have to dip the swab in a 'wetting solution.' Then, rub the swab along the surface you want to test for 15 seconds. Once it's done, you have to break off the swap and put it in a separate vial.

Currently, scientists believe the virus could live on hard surfaces for roughly three days. For softer materials, its life span is much less.

Our team at FOX 17 used the 25-sample test kit to learn if SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is living on surfaces in public areas. Surfaces tested included a: public bathroom, daycare, ATM, railings at the beach, playground, gas pump, door handles, elevator buttons, restaurant table, and restaurant bill container.

Once the samples were collected, the vials were shipped overnight to the lab for testing.

Of the surfaces sampled, two came back positive: the door handle leading into the gas station and an elevator button in a parking garage. Two other samples came back unverifiable, meaning the results were either not potent enough for a positive result or the lab detected an element in the vial that would block an accurate reading. The others were clear negatives.

The results suggest a COVID positive person either recently touched or breathed on the surfaces that tested positive.

Our sister station in Detroit, WXYZ, also received a kit. Of their test result, their team found one positive in the Detroit area on a grocery cart handle.

"A lot of time the virus is not hard to find. I think the biggest thing that surprises me about that is that you didn’t find it more," said Dr. Andrew Jameson, Regional Medical Director of Infection Control for Mercy Health West Michigan. "I think what it emphasizes is that you just have to be diligent about social distancing and masking and also hand sanitizing after we are in an environment that is not our own. We just have to be good about using good hand hygiene, sanitizing when you are out and about."

Medical research indicates that you could contract the virus if you touch your nose, eyes, or mouth after touching the infected surface.

"Anything high touch is really the key, so the more often it gets contacted by people," said Dr. Jameson.

Scientists and medical researchers are still learning how the virus is contracted with most studies indicating the primary source of contraction is through the respiratory tract. In some cases, the virus' concentration might not be enough to infect you from a surface.

"The infectious dose through a contact and introducing it into your nose or your eyes needs to be a lot higher than that when it gets into your lungs. So, we know that from other viruses and we know that from SARS-CoV-2," said Dr. Jameson.

If someone who is COVID positive coughs into their hand and then shakes your hand, Dr. Jameson says the chances are that would be enough to infect you if you touched your eyes. Medical researchers are still working to learn what the transmission rates are from person to surface back to another person.

Phylagen CEO, Dr. Jessica Green, says the kits are designed to work best in confined spaces as offices or schools.

"I think surface testing is going to become a new normal because it provides a way to see the invisible. Right now, you can’t see where someone has entered a room or touched a surface and has shed the virus."

It can also help people determine if there may be an asymptomatic carrier spreading the virus unknowingly in any space, though it wouldn't identify the specific individual.

"What it should be, is a marker, a reinforcement that it’s out there in the community that we know that there is plenty of virus in the community still and if we let our guard down, we’re going to have an uptick in cases," said Dr. Jameson.

The results are not climate control but do take into account human error.

The kit is available for anyone to use. For just 10 samples, it costs $399.