SARS-CoV-2 Detection in the Urban Environment

With news of the CoVID-19 pandemic spreading around much of the world, basic research into how the virus infects and can be treated will help medical services and world governments treat and prevent spread of the disease. Virologists in the Rohwer Lab are working to understand potential viral reservoirs; or things we interact with in cities on which the virus can live and be transmitted to others. While we know CoVID-19 is transmitted through person-to-person contact, little is known about the possibility of contracting the virus from public spaces.

We are collecting samples from the San Diego area to test for traces of the SARS-CoV2 virus in the urban environment.

Please follow the steps below to collect and submit your samples.


National Science Foundation

RAPID: Environmental Reservoirs of SARS-CoV-2

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Environmental Biology (DEB)
Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO)

PIs: Forest Rohwer (SDSU Biology) and Naveen Vaidya (SDSU Math)

In the midst of the CoVID-19 pandemic, important questions remain unanswered: Is the virus that causes the disease, lurking on that keypad at your local bank? What about that package from Amazon? While there is much speculation, we really do not know the answers to these very basic questions about how and where the virus lives outside of humans. The goal of this research is to determine if surfaces commonly touched by humans, but not routinely disinfected, are important for the spread of CoVID-19. Such surfaces will be tested for the presence of the virus. Results will be used to develop new mathematical models to determine if commonly touched surfaces are important for spreading CoVID-19. This research is important not only for society's response to CoVID-19 but also to plan for future pandemics caused by other viruses. The project will also help train the next generation of scientists who study the ecology and spread of disease.

This project will collect thousands of surface swab samples from hundreds of sites around San Diego, USA. The samples will be screened for SARS-CoV-19 using the Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reactions (RT-PCR). These data will be used to calibrate, fit and validate dynamical models that describe SARS-CoV-2 transmission from the environmental reservoirs. From these models, important characters of the SARS-CoV-2 epidemic, including risk of human infections from environmental reservoirs and contribution of environmental reservoirs to the basic reproduction number (R0) of the virus, will be estimated. The swab samples will also be characterized by metatranscriptomics for other viruses and microbes living on the same surfaces. This will be valuable for understanding the community ecology of these micro-environments and serve as a baseline for future studies. Together these intellectual products will have practical impact on controlling CoVID-19 by helping determine whether more effort should be put on disinfecting these surfaces or controlling the virus in other reservoirs.

This RAPID award is made by the Population and Community Ecology Program in the Division of Environmental Biology, using funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

NSF Award Abstract #2030479

Dr. Jo Ann Lane

Special thanks to Dr. Jo Ann Lane for supporting this work and helping to make a significant impact during the COVID-19 pandemic.