SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — Studies indicate that we’re not likely to get coronavirus from a surface, but have you ever wondered, “Is there COVID on that?”

CBS13 investigative reporter Julie Watts swabbed high-touch surfaces to find out where COVID-19 might be lingering and how surface tests might be useful.

From gas pumps, grocery carts and self-checkout screens to public restroom locks and coffee shop and gym doors, CBS13 swabbed 16 high-touch surfaces to test for COVID. We used surface test kits provided by Enviral Tech, which is one of a growing number of coronavirus surface testing companies.

Studies indicate that the virus is spread primarily through droplets in the air and there is little to no evidence of transmission though contaminated surfaces. Though, handwashing and sanitizer is still highly recommended.

CBS13 swabbed simply for the curiosity factor, but if you’re not likely to catch COVID-19 from a surface, how are the surface tests useful?

“It is less expensive to test the environment,” said Enviral Tech CEO Dr. Shula Jaron

Jaron explained that they primarily work with long-term care and senior living facilities where it can be costly to test every resident regularly. “Rather than testing 100 individuals that come into your facility, you’re testing just a couple of locations.

READ ALSO: UC Davis Student Tests Positive For COVID; Fraternity Quarantined After Alleged Frat Party

She says a positive surface test can indicate the need for immediate human testing, and repeated positives in one spot can indicate the need for better cleaning.

“Which really is an indicator that they’re probably not taking a lot of precautions with infection control,” Jaron said.

University of California, San Francisco infectious disease specialist Dr. Phillip Norris says the nasal PCR tests are really the gold standard.

“I would say the ideal would be to get cheap rapid tests,” Norris said.

Though he says, until reliable rapid human tests are widely available, environmental monitoring with these surface PCR tests “could make sense at this point of time.”

Still, he says there’s not enough data to understand how effective surface tests are for the early detection of outbreaks in a facility.

As for our tests, he notes that all COVID PCR tests pick up both live and dead viruses. So a positive surface test doesn’t necessarily mean it’s infectious. “The test only detects the genetic code of the virus,” Dr. Norris explained.

In all, CBS13 swabbed 16 high touch surfaces. A gas station pump and some bathroom stall locks that we swabbed came back with borderline positive results. According to Dr. Jaron, that means some of the degraded virus RNA remained, likely after the surface had been cleaned.

However, the tests found high levels of COVID-19 on two of the surfaces we swabbed — the entry door handle to a local gym, and a self-checkout station at a local hardware store where, incidentally, we saw people shopping without masks.

“The risk of getting infected is much greater from the person next to you not wearing a mask than it is from touching the touch screen,” Norris said.

Though, considering that the hardware store self-checkout tested positive while another store’s self-checkout did not, he says the hardware store should reexamine its cleaning protocols.

We shared our results with the businesses that tested positive. Each told us they have increased cleaning and are disinfecting high-traffic and high-touch areas.

NOTE: This story has been updated with additional details.

More from CBS Sacramento:

Julie Watts

Comments (21)
  1. AliceMoran says:

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  2. Mr. Scientist says:

    Another red herring. The PCR tests are meaningless. The level of deceit utilized against the uneducated populace is stunning. The tests have a 60% false positive rate and cannot tell the difference between corona, flu, common colds, MERS, SARS, H1N1, H1N5, or any other related pathogen. On the testing paperwork it says that the tests are not to be utilized alone for proof of a positive or negative result. Its a scam utilized by the powers that be to control and fleece the population. Wake up, or expect even more tyranny, for public good of course.

    1. FunnyKat says:

      According to the CDC you are right. Antigen and PCR tests are highly inaccurate.

      “A positive test result shows you may have antibodies from an infection with the virus that causes COVID-19. However, there is a chance that a positive result means you have antibodies from an infection with a different virus from the same family of viruses (called corona viruses).” CDC
      Test for Past Infection, October 29, 2020.

      I believe we are being scammed as well. The tests seem to be faulty in a big way and we are shutting down based on them? Positive tests, not deaths. It could be positive tests for flu, colds or other things. I think the whole covid thing is way over blown. Besides newsom eating dinner, unmasked with two heads of the California Medical Association, unmasked as well, and not social distancing kinda let the cat out of the bag. We are being duped.

    2. AdamsDP says:

      This is wrong. Please cite evidence of your hard claims. The PCR tests have a low level of “false positives” as they are designed to detect the specific genetic material for the COVID-19 virus. The specificity for the COVID-19 virus is high (https://www.cap.org/member-resources/articles/how-good-are-covid-19-sars-cov-2-diagnostic-pcr-tests). The rare false positive may be due to cross sample contamination rather than detecting “other viruses” as the tests won’t react to other taste genetic material.

  3. George says:

    PCR tests are not supposed to be used for diagnostic medicine. They are not selective enough to determine whether someone is actually infected, or not infected, with a specific virus. Even the CDC says that PCR tests should not be trusted to determine whether someone has Covid-19, or if a sample that tests positive is infectious.

    1. AdamsDP says:

      George – Can you cite where you’ve seen the CDC recently indicated that PCR tests aren’t reliable for diagnostic medicine? PCR tests are designed to detect the genetic material specific to the COVID-19 virus and not other coronaviruses. The False Positive rate for PCR tests should be very low because of this. It’s more likely that a False Negative return if the virus levels are not high enough to trigger the test sensitivity, but the specificity of the tests are narrowly targeted to detect one virus.

  4. Santella Productions says:

    Just wear your damn masks! Its not about you, it’s about respect for others.

    1. I. Refuse says:

      No. I refuse. If masks don’t work I will not wear them. They restrict my breathing. Aftet an hour of breathing into masks they are filled with germs. You can wear a mask if you want to wear a mask. Go for it. But I refuse.

      1. AdamsDP says:

        I. Refuse – isn’t the point that some amount of germs are caught in the mask and don’t end up in your lungs and/or exhaled towards other people? If you’re worried about germs that you may be exhaling, those are the same germs that I’m worried about as well. If you’re worried about the gems caught on the outside of the mask from other people or the environment around you, you should definitely take care in removing the mask and sanitizing your hands afterwards. At least they were stopped on the mask and didn’t enter your nose and lungs, right?

      2. Freeland_Dave says:

        Because he seems to have special privlege accorded him where you can’t reply to him directly, I am forced to comment to AdamsDP here.

        AdamDP. If you are so worried about infections from people with or without masks, perhaps you should self-quaranteen and stay there until this is all over.

    2. Yirmin says:

      Go read the Danish study where they actually used the scientific method to test whether masks made a difference. They even provided the people wearing masks with masks to insure they could change them properly throughout the test. Final result was no statistically significant difference in infection rates from those that wore masks and those that did not. The mask don’t work for you or the person by you. The masks are just safety theater used by the government to try and convince the population that something is being done and it is not a lost cause.

      In the end, unless a vaccine is found and used, everyone will get the virus sooner or later whether everyone wears a mask or not.

      1. AdamsDP says:

        The Danish study is interesting as most investigations to give us more information about this are. They should be published, debated, and shared and help inform our every growing knowledge about this disease and what we can do to try and be effective.

        This article highlights some specific downsides to the Danish study (https://pubpeer.com/publications/47865E80A829070D6D64DDB57F3A70) which I’d also encourage you to read, but here are some key points:

        – The study asked one group to wear masks + gave them 50 masks and the other group were not asked to wear masks and not given any masks. The study didn’t actually look at whether the people given masks/told to wear masks actually wore masks properly or whether people not told to wear masks / given masks ended up wearing them. Whether participants adhered to the mask wearing wasn’t done independently through self-reporting which is pretty unreliable. Even through the self reporting, 54% reported either partially adhering (47%) or not adhering (7%) at all.

        Participants in the non-mask/non-message arm are likely to have worn masks during the study and vice versa. Non-compliance in both study sides will dilute the effect of interest and bias it towards no effect with respect to the stated objectives.

        – The expected outcome was set at whether the mask wearing group COVID infection would be 50% less. That’s a huge expected impact and doesn’t seem to be rooted in any justification.

        I think it is an interesting study with some potentially major flaws – but it definitely contributes to the body of knowledge!

        The purpose also of mask wearing is to provide some hopefully additional limited protection to the wearer, but the biggest benefits are to help limit the spread of infectious people to the surrounding group. As noted in this study, this took place early in the pandemic when initially mask wearing was limited. If the primary impact of masks are to limit the distance or amount of virus that will spread, this study won’t really measure whether masks are “effective”.

        At the end of the day, are the limited “costs” related to mask wearing for the majority of people worth the potential benefit on limiting the spread? I, personally, think so. It doesn’t take much to wear a mask or put any burden on me and, given that, I think makes sense as a good public health policy guidance as the potential benefits are significant – especially in a limited duration until we’re able to get a vaccine in place and better, widely available therapeutics that reduce the instance of severe cases requiring hospitalization.

    3. Glen says:

      Nine other trials looking at the efficacy of masks (two looking at healthcare workers and seven at community transmission) have found that masks make little or no difference to whether you get influenza or not.

    4. Glen says:

      I was wearing loose fitting leather gloves that come off easily. Eventually I stopped since rareley have I seen anyone use them . Still if you want to touch your face the gloves slip off witn minimal effort and slip back on . Why disinfect the carts if touch doesnt transmit anything? As for masks Nine other trials looking at the efficacy of masks (two looking at healthcare workers and seven at community transmission) have found that masks make little or no difference to whether you get influenza or not.

    5. Freeland_Dave says:

      Speaking of ‘not about you’ kindly MYOB Karen. You obviously don’t respect others, why in the hell should they respect you Karen? You are free to air your opinion but you have no authority to tell others what to do or respect.

  5. David Christensen says:

    This is a lie…” “The risk of getting infected is much greater from the person next to you not wearing a mask than it is from touching the touch screen,” Norris said.” https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/do-masks-stop-the-spread-of-covid-19-

    1. AdamsDP says:

      The Danish study is interesting as most investigations to give us more information about this are. They should be published, debated, and shared and help inform our every growing knowledge about this disease and what we can do to try and be effective.

      This article highlights some specific downsides to the Danish study (https://pubpeer.com/publications/47865E80A829070D6D64DDB57F3A70) which I’d also encourage you to read, but here are some key points:

      – The study asked one group to wear masks + gave them 50 masks and the other group were not asked to wear masks and not given any masks. The study didn’t actually look at whether the people given masks/told to wear masks actually wore masks properly or whether people not told to wear masks / given masks ended up wearing them. Whether participants adhered to the mask wearing wasn’t done independently through self-reporting which is pretty unreliable. Even through the self reporting, 54% reported either partially adhering (47%) or not adhering (7%) at all.

      Participants in the non-mask/non-message arm are likely to have worn masks during the study and vice versa. Non-compliance in both study sides will dilute the effect of interest and bias it towards no effect with respect to the stated objectives.

      – The expected outcome was set at whether the mask wearing group COVID infection would be 50% less. That’s a huge expected impact and doesn’t seem to be rooted in any justification.

      I think it is an interesting study with some potentially major flaws – but it definitely contributes to the body of knowledge!

      The purpose also of mask wearing is to provide some hopefully additional limited protection to the wearer, but the biggest benefits are to help limit the spread of infectious people to the surrounding group. As noted in this study, this took place early in the pandemic when initially mask wearing was limited. If the primary impact of masks are to limit the distance or amount of virus that will spread, this study won’t really measure whether masks are “effective”.

      At the end of the day, are the limited “costs” related to mask wearing for the majority of people worth the potential benefit on limiting the spread? I, personally, think so. It doesn’t take much to wear a mask or put any burden on me and, given that, I think makes sense as a good public health policy guidance as the potential benefits are significant – especially in a limited duration until we’re able to get a vaccine in place and better, widely available therapeutics that reduce the instance of severe cases requiring hospitalization.

  6. Brad Northam says:

    You should be ashamed to be publishing such sensationalist tripe. Perhaps you don’t know the facts, I suppose. The media collectively misses the mark more than they hit it where Covid is concerned. The facts are, regardless of how much covid is detectable on an object, or how long it can live there, in peer-reviewed laboratory studies, not one single entity has been able to create a viable (virulent) culture from any sample taken from an inanimate object. This includes samples created in controlled conditions where there was 10 to the sixth power (1000000) more virus present than any that has ever been collected in a normal area inhabited by covid infected humans. Even samples from CPAP masks from a Covid ward were unable to produce a viable culture.

  7. J. Roberts says:

    WE HEARD ENOUGH. 7 MONTHS OF FEAR DRIVEN MEDIA HYPE. Not wearing a mask, not social distancing, not complying with any of it, get it? AdamsDP and his ilk are in a cult of medical tyranny, and drinking the kool aid. What matters now is what side of this dystopian reality are you on? We are on the sane side. Those who are that scared should stay home.

    1. AdamsDP says:

      You’re using the word tyranny and I don’t think you know what it means.

      1. J. Roberts says:

        Curfews, mask mandates, social distancing, reduced occupancy, business shutdown, job loss, mass hysteria, scaring children and elderly, arresting people, raiding homes, shut down of houses of worship, closed schools, uptick in suicides, domestic violence, overdoses, mental illness, uptick in poverty, world hunger, child hunger in the US, contact tracing, lock downs, quarantine of healthy people and possible mandatory vaccination with DNA altering, Nuremberg violating, vaccines. Sounds like tyranny to me. Your disconnect is proof of your delusion. For sure you are part of the medical cult.

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