Investigation of nosocomial SARS-CoV-2 transmission from two patients to healthcare workers identifies close contact but not airborne transmission events

Derek J. Bays, Minh Vu H. Nguyen, Stuart H. Cohen, Sarah Waldman, Carla S. Martin, George R. Thompson, Christian Sandrock, Joel Tourtellotte, Janelle Vu Pugashetti, Chinh Phan, Hien H. Nguyen, Gregory Y. Warner, Bennett H. Penn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Objective: To describe the pattern of transmission of severe acute respiratory coronavirus virus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) during 2 nosocomial outbreaks of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) with regard to the possibility of airborne transmission. Design: Contact investigations with active case finding were used to assess the pattern of spread from 2 COVID-19 index patients. Setting: A community hospital and university medical center in the United States, in February and March, 2020, early in the COVID-19 pandemic. Patients: Two index patients and 421 exposed healthcare workers. Methods: Exposed healthcare workers (HCWs) were identified by analyzing the electronic medical record (EMR) and conducting active case finding in combination with structured interviews. Healthcare coworkers (HCWs) were tested for COVID-19 by obtaining oropharyngeal/nasopharyngeal specimens, and RT-PCR testing was used to detect SARS-CoV-2. Results: Two separate index patients were admitted in February and March 2020, without initial suspicion for COVID-19 and without contact or droplet precautions in place; both patients underwent several aerosol-generating procedures in this context. In total, 421 HCWs were exposed in total, and the results of the case contact investigations identified 8 secondary infections in HCWs. In all 8 cases, the HCWs had close contact with the index patients without sufficient personal protective equipment. Importantly, despite multiple aerosol-generating procedures, there was no evidence of airborne transmission. Conclusion: These observations suggest that, at least in a healthcare setting, most SARS-CoV-2 transmission is likely to take place during close contact with infected patients through respiratory droplets, rather than by long-distance airborne transmission.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1046-1052
Number of pages7
JournalInfection Control and Hospital Epidemiology
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 3 2021
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Infectious Diseases


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