PNW startup can detect coronavirus on indoor surfaces, to stop outbreaks from silent spreaders

A startup company in the Pacific Northwest is giving senior facilities, schools, and companies the ability to detect if someone in their midst might be unknowingly shedding the contagious coronavirus. Enviral Tech in Eugene, OR created a swab testing system that finds coronavirus in places where people congregate and commonly touched surfaces.

“We very specifically decided to look at testing of surfaces inside of buildings,” said Shula Jaron, one of three scientists who founded the company, which came up with a coronavirus test kit with swabs anyone can use to take samples on commonly used indoor surfaces, from railings and doors to floors and even air vents.

“We need to know if the virus is somewhere in our workspace,” she said.

The company recently tested surfaces in 52 senior care centers across the Pacific Northwest over three weeks, and they discovered cases of coronavirus on surfaces in four of them. In every case, someone had been shedding the virus with no symptoms of illness at all.

“They were screening for all the things we’ve been told to screen for,” Jaron said. “They checked for cough, congestion, temperature, but these people were asymptomatic, so they weren’t displaying any of those symptoms that we look for, but they were shedding virus.”

The results gave each facility a head-start to stop a potentially deadly outbreak.

“They were able to turn around immediately and test everybody in the facility to identify those individuals who were shedding virus and then remove them, and stop the potential spread in their facilities,” Jaron said. “Frankly, we’ve been told we’ve saved lives.”

The kit has overnight delivery, and the results are given within hours. “If you’re in Seattle and you swab today and you send it back today, we’ll tell you results tomorrow,” she said.

Jaron said testing surfaces first might be the most effective way to get businesses and schools open again.

“We do have some businesses that are using this as a way to get their workforce back into their buildings.”

She said test kits can be sent individually or on a subscription basis, and a kit with four to eight swabs can cost about $250.