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‘Fake spit’ tests show library materials free of coronavirus after 3 days

Columbus Dispatch

Posted by Rita Price on Jun 23, 2020

COLUMBUS, Ohio (June 23, 2020)—Officials with the Columbus Metropolitan Library and other systems cheered the findings, which were released this week as part of a national project on the safe reopening of archives, libraries and museums.

Scientists have good news for libraries and their legions of customers. According to research by Columbus-based Battelle, the virus that causes COVID-19 is undetectable on books and other common materials after three days.

That means items appear safe for re-circulation after a relatively brief and inexpensive 72-hour quarantine.

Officials with the Columbus Metropolitan Library and other systems cheered the findings, which were released this week as part of a national project on the safe reopening of archives, libraries and museums.

Columbus has already been adhering to a three-day quarantine for items based on initial recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, spokesman Ben Zenitsky said Tuesday.

“These results really affirm that the virus is not detectable on common library materials after that time,” he said. “We will continue doing what we’re doing.”

Will Richter, principal research scientist at Battelle, said the study built on existing research to essentially put materials through the worst that a sneezing adult or drooling toddler could do.

Hard and soft book covers, paper pages inside closed books, mylar book jackets and plastic DVD cases were “inoculated” with liquid droplets containing thousands of particles of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the COVID-19 illness.

“We wanted to replicate a decently worst-case scenario,” Richter said. “There’s a formula for synthetic saliva. We basically make fake spit.”

The virus was not detectable after one day on the hard and soft book covers and DVD cases, and couldn’t be found on the paper inside a book and on mylar jackets after three days.

The findings are part of the Reopening Archives, Libraries, and Museums (REALM) Project, which is supported by Battelle, the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences and OCLC, a nonprofit library technology and research organization.

More results are expected in July.

“Scientific research is essential to answer questions about the spread of the coronavirus on materials that are ever-present in our nation’s libraries, archives and museums,” Crosby Kemper, director of the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences, said in a news release.

Kemper said systems know that organizations and the public are asking, “How can we mitigate risk to staff? How should patrons and visitors handle books, touchable exhibits or DVD cases?”

Richter, a microbiologist, said it’s up to libraries and other organizations to design their quarantine procedures based on research findings. “We did the science part,” he said.

In Columbus libraries, books and other materials are held in designated areas — some rooms have vast piles — until sufficient time has passed, Zenitsky said.

Neither the main library in Downtown Columbus nor the 22 branches has resumed normal operations since closing on March 14 due to the pandemic. But almost all sites will be offering some level of service, whether curbside pickup or limited computer use, by the end of the month, Zenitsky said.

Details about available services during the phased reopening are updated on the library’s website, columbuslibrary.org.

For updates about additional research through the REALM project, go to oc.lc/realm-project

Read the full article here.

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Katy Delaney
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T.R. Massey

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