Introduction: Although the potential role of inanimate surfaces in SARS-CoV-2 transmission has yet to be adequately assessed, it is still routine practice to apply deep and expensive environmental disinfection protocols. The aim of this study was to verify the presence of viable virus on different surfaces exposed to droplets released by coughing in SARS-CoV-2 RNA positive patients. Methods: Patients admitted to hospital with a positive SARS-CoV-2 real-time (RT)-PCR swab were asked to cough on steel, cardboard, plastic and their hands. Surfaces were tested at baseline (T0) and at different timepoints thereafter using swabs dipped in medium, and quickly seeded on VERO E6 cells that were checked every other day for cytopathic effect (CPE). Laboratory-propagated SARS-CoV-2 strains were examined at the same time points and on identical materials. Results: Ten RNA-positive patients were enrolled into the study. The median cycle threshold value was 20.7 (range 13-28.3). Nasopharyngeal swabs from 3 of the patients yielded viable virus 2-10 days post-inoculation. However, in none of the patients was it possible to isolate viable SARS-CoV-2 from sputum under identical experimental conditions. A CPE was instead already visible using laboratory-propagated SARS-CoV-2 strains at 20', 60', 180' while an effect at 24 h required a 6-day incubation. Conclusion: The evidence emerging from this real-life study suggests that droplets delivered by SARS-CoV-2 infected patients on common inanimate surfaces did not contain viable virus. In contrast, and in line with several laboratory-based experiments, in vitro adapted viruses could survive and grow on the same fomites.
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