'COVID hunters' study how coronavirus spreads

How does the coronavirus spread? Doctors at Northwell Health's Feinstein Institutes are trying to answer this question. They call themselves COVID hunters and they've been hard at work since the virus outbreak in March.

Dr. Cyrus Kuschner is one of the researchers tasked with the job. To date, he has helped collect more than 1,200 samples.

"Plexiglass across your banks, air filters at grocery stores, but no one is really looking at if this is actually effective," said Kuschner, an emergency medicine doctor at LIJ Medical Center. "Using environmental testing, you find the most important thing: when is the virus actually found in your community."

The team started working inside the hospital by swabbing floors, door handles, bed railings, curtains, and using air sampling devices. Their early findings found that the virus was primarily airborne.

"You find it on the curtains, the floor that you're walking by, doorknobs," he said. "Most of this virus is killed because it's meant to live in the human body but some of it still has the potential to hurt you."

But they've learned that they found no signs of the virus after thorough decontamination. COVID hunter Zarina Brune, who is an M.D./Ph.D. student at Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra, said she believes this shows that safety precautions work.

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"Imagine how many lives we can save by knowing when there are infectious particles in a space," Brune said.

The hunters also collected samples in lower-risk environments including office buildings. In the coming weeks and months, the researchers hope to move into schools, churches, and other areas in the community with an ultimate goal of doing this testing nationwide to help already ongoing efforts to pinpoint hotspots of the virus.

"Your coffee machine, the refrigerator, your tables — there was no sign of coronavirus," Kuschner said. "The supermarkets, inside schools, could environmental testing be used before people become symptomatic because as soon as it's shed, you find it the same day."

A step forward in ensuring safety down the road.