October 30, 2020

An asymptomatic coronavirus carrier infected an apartment neighbor without sharing the same space. A study blames the building’s elevator buttons.

New research reveals that an elevator can be a coronavirus transmission hotspot, even if an infected person doesn’t ride with anyone else.

A woman traveled from the US back to her home in China’s Heilongjiang province on March 19. Although she did not have any symptoms, she quarantined in her apartment following her arrival, avoiding any close contact with other apartment-building residents. An antibody test would later reveal she was an asymptomatic coronavirus carrier.

Three weeks later, her downstairs neighbor (and four of the neighbor’s close contacts) tested positive.

The two apartment-building neighbors had not crossed paths. But they had used the same elevator at different times.

According to a new CDC study, the downstairs neighbor “likely became infected by using the elevator in the building” after the asymptomatic carrier had ridden it, the study authors wrote. They think transmission likely occurred when the neighbor touched surfaces and buttons in the elevator.

No other residents in the building tested positive, but contact tracing later revealed the neighbor was patient zero of a 71-person cluster in the local community.

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