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A new Rutgers study found extremely low levels of the virus that causes COVID-19 on surfaces where oncology and hematology inpatients and outpatients are treated providing more assurance that those receiving cancer care are safe when receiving treatment.

The study published on Feb. 18 in Cancer revealed extremely low detection of SARS-CoV-2 RNA on environmental surfaces across multiple inpatient and outpatient oncology areas, including an active COVID-19 floor.

“For patients with blood cancers who may be at higher risk of developing complications from the virus, our findings provide a layer of assurance that these patients are safe when frequenting high impact areas where they receive their cancer care,” said Andrew Evens, the lead author of the study published in Cancer, director of the Lymphoma Program at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and medical director of the oncology service line at RWJBarnabas Health. “The results of this study help us further understand how COVID-19 is transmitted in hematology/oncology and other medical settings, and confirm that strategies like enhanced cleaning and disinfecting policies are extremely effective.”

Researchers from Rutgers Cancer Institute, the state’s only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, evaluated the frequency of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, on various environmental surfaces in outpatient and inpatient hematology/oncology settings located within Rutgers Cancer Institute and Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, an RWJBarnabas Health facility.

Patients harboring hematologic malignancies, which are cancers that affect the blood, bone marrow, and lymph nodes, have demonstrated a potential higher mortality rate due to the virus. While COVID-19 is transmitted person to person through respiratory droplets, it has been hypothesized that there is a potential risk of SARS-CoV-2 spreading via contact with contaminated surfaces and equipment, especially in health care settings, creating additional concern for patients with blood cancers.

Environmental swabbing took place in two outpatient clinics including the malignant hematology and medical oncology units and infusion suites as well as inpatient areas, which included the leukemia/lymphoma/CAR T-cell unit, and an inpatient unit caring for patients actively infected with COVID-19. Surfaces were sampled on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from June 17, 2020, through June 29, 2020. Areas included waiting rooms, infusion areas, bathrooms, floors, elevator banks, doors, exam rooms, computer equipment, pneumatic tubing stations, pharmacy benches, and medication rooms. Medical equipment was also swabbed from these areas including intravenous poles, chemotherapy bags, vitals monitor, telemetry stations, and linen carts.

Analysis of the 130 samples collected were separated into three categories: patient/public areas (85), staff areas (22), and medical equipment (23). In the two outpatient clinics and inpatient leukemia/lymphoma/CAR T-cell unit, no SARS-CoV-2 RNA was detected on any swabbed surfaces. In the inpatient COVID unit, one patient/public sample was positive for detection of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in an area where a patient with recent infection was receiving treatment. Thus, the overall positive test rate for SARS-CoV-2 RNA across all surfaces in the combined outpatient and inpatient hematology/oncology units was a low 0.5 percent.