Volunteers swab high-touch areas in Los Alamos for COVID-19 traces

Coronavirus New Mexico

LOS ALAMOS, N.M. (KRQE) – People in Los Alamos are spending the week swabbing high-touch areas around town trying to get an idea of how coronavirus may be spreading. Dr. Prisca Tiassa is busy at work this week trying to map the movement of coronavirus in her community. “This year in particular is very interesting because of COVID-19,” Tiassa said. “How does it affect the microbial ecosystem? Can we detect it and where?”

The microbiologist and a team of volunteers took 150 samples this week of high-touch areas in Los Alamos like gas stations, ATMs, and playgrounds. “The point is to track and monitor the presence and persistence of the virus,” Tiassa said. “We want to understand how long it stays on surfaces and maybe even correlate with a second wave.”

She said it is a tracking tool. If done regularly, these tests can determine how long microbes last on a surface. Plus, if the virus is detected where it wasn’t before, then Tiassa said we know more of it is circulating. They are sending the samples off to New York this week where samples from communities all over the world are being collected and compared to map the movement of the virus. “It will be interesting since we have so few cases, so that will be a good opportunity to see how we compare with other communities,” Tiassa said.

More than a dozen people joined the effort from fellow scientists to families. “It is a wonderful teaching opportunity for the kids, and we can participate locally in something greater,” volunteer Sarah Work said. “We may have the opportunity to put a couple dots on the map for testing and cases.”

Tiassa said the results will be made public with the goal of helping inform public health decisions. “Knowing where it is concentrated, when it appears, and how long it stays is actually very useful,” Tiassa said.

Tiassa expects the results to be ready in the next month or so. She hopes to expand swabbing to other communities in New Mexico like Bernalillo County.

New Mexico Coronavirus Resource Guide

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