Evaluating fomite risk of brown paper bags storing personal protective equipment exposed to SARS-CoV-2: A quasi-experimental study

Kyirsty Unger, Leslie Dietz, Patrick Horve, Kevin Van Den Wymelenberg, Amber Lin, Erin Kinney, Bory Kea

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction Literature is lacking on the safety of storing contaminated PPE in paper bags for reuse, potentially increasing exposure to frontline healthcare workers (HCW) and patients. The aim of this study is to evaluate the effectiveness of paper bags as a barrier for fomite transmission of SARS-CoV-2 by storing face masks, respirators, and face shields. Methods This quasi-experimental study evaluated the presence of SARS-CoV-2 on the interior and exterior surfaces of paper bags containing PPE that had aerosolized exposures in clinical and simulated settings. Between May and October 2020, 30 unique PPE items were collected from COVID-19 units at two urban hospitals. Exposed PPE, worn by either an infected patient or HCW during a SARS-CoV-2 aerosolizing event, were placed into an unused paper bag. Samples were tested at 30-minute and 12-hour intervals. Results A total of 177 swabs were processed from 30 PPE samples. We found a 6.8% positivity rate among all samples across both collection sites. Highest positivity rates were associated with ventilator disconnection and exposure to respiratory droplets from coughing. Positivity rates differed between hospital units. Total positivity rates were similar between 30-minute (6.7%) and 12-hour (6.9%) sample testing time intervals. Control samples exposed to inactivated SARS-CoV-2 droplets had higher total viral counts than samples exposed to nebulized aerosols.Conclusions Data suggests paper bags are not a significant fomite risk for SARS-CoV-2 transmission. However, controls demonstrated a risk with droplet exposure. Data can inform guidelines for storing and re-using PPE in situations of limited supplies during future pandemics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0273433
JournalPloS one
Issue number8 August
StatePublished - Aug 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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