Early detection of SARS-CoV-2 will be key to re-opening millions of businesses

The workplace or classroom may be safest place to be (when early COVID-19 detection is at play)

Note: This post looks to a widely reported COVID-19 outbreak at SpinCo in Hamilton Ontario, to provide some real clues to an effective strategy for living with the SARS-CoV-2 virus.  SpinCo is not a BuiltSpace customer.

According to news reports, the owners of the gym franchise did everything required under COVID-19 protocols to keep their patrons and facility safe.  Yet, despite these best efforts, at least 72 people have tested positive as a result of SARS-CoV-2 exposure.

The studio, a downtown Hamilton Spinco location, has been connected to 69 cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday, despite screening customers, operating at 50 per cent capacity and keeping the recommended two-metre radius around bikes.  CBC.ca

The studio limited classes to 50%, or 21 riders per class.   Current research suggests that the infectious period may begin 3-4 days prior to symptoms, then extend for up to 10 days after.  On October 5th, the owners closed their business down for at least a month, but face a very challenging task to safely reopen.  The outbreak continues.

I’ve reconstructed the timeline for this outbreak, based on numerous updates in the media.    The first report… three cases, 2 patrons and a staff member…on October 4th, provide clues about the origins of the outbreak.  If these cases are related, then it would seem likely that the second and third cases  may have all originated in a single 21 person class, but subsequent cases seem to indicate exposure to a much larger group.    Those first cases would likely have become symptomatic around October 1st (given an estimated 3-4 days for lab testing).  If we assume that all 3 were symptomatic, then patient zero may have visited the gym on or prior to September 28th.

The first seven days are the most critical

From the timeline, it’s clear that the least risk to public health is found in the first seven days of the outbreak…when the business was still open!   The outbreak was only identified on the 7th day, and the business closed.  By then, it was too late for the business, or the public health authorities, to control and manage.  If SARS-CoV-2 could be identified earlier, the rest of the outbreak can be eliminated, or managed with a much smaller contact tracing effort.

Clinical testing doesn’t work for early warning

Clinical testing typically begins “the next day” after symptoms appear.   Lab testing can take 3-4 days, with results available on day 8 or 9 after infection.  On the timeline above, each red box marks a reported case count,.  It appears that the first (3) cases were reported on the 7th day after infection (or that the infection may have occurred even earlier).

The facility was probably COVID-19 free on day zero, September 27th.  There is no cost effective way to use clinical testing (testing all visitors and patrons), so that the facility operator can ensure that their facility remains safe.


There is a Plan B.  It’s environmental testing

Plan B replaces intrusive nasal swabs up with air, waste water or swab testing of high touch surfaces.   Environmental testing provides early indication of COVID-19 in the facility.  When combined with our proactive (documented) daily disinfection/cleaning, and digital contact tracing, this environmental testing  provides daily proof that the indoor environment remains SARS-CoV-2 free, and if a case is found, rapid isolation, to reduce further outbreaks.

For more information on our “Plan B”, see my next post, or reach out directly to me.

Rick Rolston, CEO