CBS4 swabs surfaces across central Indiana; results show coronavirus particles in several locations

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INDIANAPOLIS – A company insists it can identify coronavirus in any indoor space.

Phylagen Surface is one of a few products that markets to businesses nationwide. Corporations like school districts, grocery store chains and dentist offices have purchased the kits trying to see where they need to sanitize most.

CBS4 wanted to see where COVID-19 particles were in our city. The Problem Solvers swabbed 25 locations across Indianapolis and Carmel.

The team started downtown. We swabbed three ATMs and public entrances at the City-County Building, City Market and downtown library.

In Broad Ripple, we tested parking meters and a crosswalk button that dozens of people touch every day.

The CBS4 Problem Solvers also collected samples from a ping ping table along the Monon Trail and some playground equipment, including railings and a swing that dozens of children had played with earlier in the day.

Finally, we tested a bunch of objects you’ll find in a house: children’s toys, stainless steel appliances, a front door, cell phones and areas from inside a vehicle.

“You can detect it on surfaces, especially highly touched surfaces,” warned Dr. Aaron Ermel, assistant professor of clinical medicine at Indiana University School of Medicine.

Ermel was right. Within a day, Phylagen had processed our tests. Three of the 25 locations we had swabbed flagged positive for coronavirus particles.

“I wasn’t surprised,” said Shandy Dearth, the director of undergraduate epidemiology education at the Fairbanks School of Public Health. “We know we have a lot of coronavirus in the community and so I would expect you guys to find it.”

The locations that came back positive were an ATM, parking meter and crosswalk button.

“How concerning is that? Should we be worried that were running into COVID particles when we touch everyday things?” Angela Brauer asked.

“Did it worry me? Not particularly,” Ermel answered. “Even though we don’t think it’s a significant load of transmission, there is that potential for it.”

Ermel admitted it’s difficult for people to avoid touching things in public. Instead, he said, it’s important for people to wash their hands frequently and use hand sanitizer as often as possible.

“I like to do the same thing when I’m going in and out of a grocery store. So, I’m going in and I try to wash my hands with sanitizer and then as I’m coming out and I’m getting in the car, I do the same thing again.”

CBS4 asked how effective hand sanitizer is, given that it dries so quickly. Ermel said as long as it’s the recommended 60-70 percent ethanol and you can get it to last 20-30 seconds, the hand sanitizer is better than nothing. Still, it shouldn’t replace soap and water. He also stressed that people should not be touching their face.

“It won’t infect you through your hand, right? It infects you through your mouth, your nose and those areas,” he explained.

Dearth said she tries to touch as few things as possible while out in public for this exact reason.

“You know, that’s a hard habit to get over because we like to pick things up and look them and read the labels. I try and make a conscious decision to not do that when I don’t have to,” she told CBS4. “And then, I still carry hand sanitizer with me on a regular basis. I have it in my car, so when I get back to my car, I can use the sanitizer.”

Knowing the results of our swab, Dearth still expressed more concern over airborne transmission than coronavirus particles on surfaces.

“I’m still pushing people to pay attention to social distancing and wearing a mask. When you go shopping, make sure you’re wearing a mask. If you enter a place and people aren’t wearing masks properly — as in the nose has to be covered and the mouth has to be covered — I would leave,” she said.

Phylagen said previous swabs have proven that coronavirus particles are on grocery store freezer doors and Plexiglass barriers at store checkouts. A spokesperson said the virus is often found on vertical surfaces where people are breathing.

Indiana and 35 other states nationwide have a mask mandate in place. Our local health order says people have to have a face mask while out in public until at least Dec. 12.

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