COVID-19 Virus Found on Surfaces at Supermarkets, LAX, ATMs

The I-Team swabbed 75 high-touch surfaces across LA County using a COVID-19 swab test designed to help businesses, offices, and schools identify surface contamination.

NBC Universal, Inc.

The virus that causes COVID-19 has been found on "high-touch" surfaces across Los Angeles County--including shopping carts and public bathroom doors--during an NBC4 I-Team investigation.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and scientists worldwide have said the virus can live for up to three days on metal and plastic surfaces and people can get infected if they touch these contaminated surfaces.

"They would touch that surface and then get infected by touching their mouth, their nose or their eyes accidentally," said Dr. Tim Brewer, an epidemiologist at UCLA's Fielding School of Public Health.

In its investigation, the I-Team swabbed 75 high-touch surfaces across LA County using a COVID-19 swab test made by San Francisco-based Phylagen designed to help businesses, offices, and schools identify surface contamination.

"You can use that information to increase safety protocols, like making sure that people are wearing masks before they come indoors, and you may even want to wash surfaces more regularly in your spaces," said Dr. Jessica Green, co-founder and CEO of Phylagen.

Over three days, the I-Team swabbed shopping carts, equipment at gyms, self-checkout screens at stores, crosswalk buttons, ATMs, and public bathrooms

The swab test doesn't specify if the virus was live and infectious at the time of swabbing, but Phylagen says it most likely was live recently.


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“Phylagen Surface detects RNA from the SARS-CoV-2 virus," the company said in a statement. "This is an indication that live virus was likely present on the surface recently, but is not indicative of the infectious state of the virus at the time of testing.”

Of the 75 surfaces that were swabbed, 11 of them, about 15%, were contaminated with the virus that causes COVID-19.

"It's not surprising you found the virus, because that's what's prevalent right now in the community," said Dr. Neha Nanda, an epidemiologist at USC's Keck School of Medicine.

The gym equipment, the self-checkout screens at retail stores, and the crosswalk buttons that the I-Team swabbed all turned up clean.

But at a Food 4 Less supermarket in Arleta, three surfaces had the virus that causes COVID-19--a shopping cart, a handle to the ice cream freezer, and a handle to the bread case in the bakery section.

At LAX, an escalator in Terminal Four showed the presence of the virus.

And the doors to men's bathrooms -- at Walgreens Pharmacy in Huntington Park and Home Depot in Signal Hill -- also tested positive.

For the complete list of locations that tested positive, see gallery below:

List: COVID-19 Virus Found on Surfaces at Supermarkets, LAX, ATMs

Most of the businesses where the I-Team found evidence of the virus -- Home Depot, Food 4 Less, LAX, Superior Grocers, and Walgreens -- say they disinfect surfaces frequently and follow CDC guidelines. See all company statements below.

Medical experts tell the I-Team that consumers must take steps to protect themselves when they are out in public. Before handling "high-touch" surfaces, they suggest disinfecting them with wipes, and cleaning your hands when you're done.

"It's so important after you go to the store, use hand sanitizer or when you get home wash your hands, because that will protect you from becoming infected," said UCLA's Dr. Tim Brewer.

Company Statements

Walgreens Statement

Since the start of the pandemic, stores have increased the frequency of daily cleaning procedures including cleaning high-traffic areas, counter tops and point-of-sale terminals, with additional deep cleaning being conducted by a professional third-party cleaning service at all stores on a routine basis. The safety of our customers and our employees is our top priority, and we actively review all of our policies and procedures as CDC and OSHA guidelines may evolve.

Superior Grocers Statement

We have not seen any of the scientific data from NBC4’s investigation, but we take these claims extremely seriously.  The health and safety of our customers and employees is now – and always has been – our number one priority.  To that end, amongst other measures, Superior Grocers completely sanitizes the touch point areas in its stores every 30 to 60 minutes, provides complimentary hand sanitizer, requires employees and customers to wear face masks at all times, and enforces all social distancing guidelines.

LAX Statement

Our top priority at LAX is the safety of our passengers and employees. We have already implemented, and continue to invest in, a variety of new procedures and technologies that reduce the spread of germs and create a cleaner, healthier and safer airport. We are piloting Ultraviolet-C light devices on escalator handrails in two of our terminals and will add to other terminals if it is found to be effective. We also have advanced filtration systems in place for cleaning air. We have added new touchless faucets and water bottle refill stations, Plexiglas barriers and more than 250 hand sanitizer stations throughout our terminals – many in close proximity to escalators and other high-touch areas. Crews are also continuously deep-cleaning high-touch surfaces, including hand rails and restrooms, with hospital-grade products. It’s also important that individuals take precautions. That is why we have signage and audio messages reminding all those in our terminals of the requirement to wear a face covering, and public health guidance to wash hands frequently, avoid touching the face, and maintain six feet distance. As we navigate this new landscape and set standards for the aviation industry, LAX is committed to creating the safest and cleanest facilities possible.

Home Depot Statement

Following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), we’ve increased the frequency of cleaning and general hygiene maintenance in our stores and other locations. We’re also disinfecting high-traffic and high-touch areas, as well as posting signage about handwashing and other preventative actions. 

Food 4 Less Statement

We are unable to address the validity of the test you speak of below.  Please note that Food 4 Less has taken extensive measures to safeguard our associates, customers and supply chain, ensuring local communities always have access to fresh, affordable food.

Below are the measures we are implementing and continually updating to protect the safety of our associates, customers and our communities:

  • Gloves and face coverings for every associate, every shift
  • Masks required for everyone entering the store
  • Plexiglass shields installed at checkout stands
  • Educational floor decals to ensure physical distancing
  • Handwashing and cleaning high-touch areas every 30 minutes
  • Limiting store capacity to 25% of normal (1 person for every 180 square feet of store space)
  • Increased store sanitation processes when restocking
  • Mandatory temperature and symptom checks for associates prior to starting their shifts
  • Communication with all employees to review, confirm and reinforce safety and social distancing best practices

With regular visits from the local Health Department, we’ve affirmed that our processes continue to live up to our high safety standards in protecting our associates and the millions of customers that visit our 127 stores each week.

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