'COVAIR': Is SARS-CoV-2 airborne and does it interact with particle pollutants?

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: National Heart and Lung Institute

Abstract

Aerosol dispersion and environmental spread of SARS-CoV2 virus apart from direct inhalation of
large droplets from a cough or exhaled breath of an infected person remains a high possibility.
SARS-CoV2 virus has been collected from the air of hospitals with COVID-19 patients and the
presence of the virus on particulate matter has been reported in Northern Italy. We wish to
develop diagnostic tools and predictive sensing to detect SARS-CoV2 in crowded urban
environments in order to address whether the airborne amounts are high enough to cause a
respiratory infection and whether pollution particles can carry live virus that is directly inhaled into
the lungs. We will determine whether SARS-CoV2 can be detected as active virus in the air of
hospitals with COVID-19 patients, and if so, use a similar technique to measure the virus in
crowded spaces such as in underground train platforms, central station concourse, shopping malls
and busy roadside. We will use and validate different methods of collecting particles from
experience obtained from our EPSRC-funded INHALE project. Particles will be collected onto filters,
and virus and virus-particulate interactions determined by RT-PCR (RNA-based), culturing on Vero
E6 cells and airway epithelial cells, and using state-of-the -art electron microscopy. We will model
this mode of transmission into the lungs by studying airflows and pollutant levels, and as a
measure of this infection in the population. This method can be potentially considered as a
surveillance assay of crowded public areas for SARS-CoV2 with ~ 2,000 new infections currently
reported daily.

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