Healthcare workers are at risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection by way of droplets and aerosols. To date, no study has combined virus detection technology with a clinical trial to assess the exposure risk as a function of appropriate facemask usage in COVID-19 patient care.

Lay summary


Recent data on the COVID-19 pandemic suggest that healthcare workers are at risk of infection by SARS-CoV-2, particularly when they are not wearing adequate personal protective equipment. However, the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission by the environment and the “adequacy” of personal protective equipment in such a context is still the subject of debate. To date, neither real-time SARS-CoV-2 detection nor head-to-head comparison of personal protective equipment during COVID-19 patient care have been performed.

Research aims

In this project, we will validate a novel biosensor to improve detection and continuous monitoring of SARS-CoV-2 in droplets or aerosols in COVID-19 patient rooms. In parallel, a state-of-the-art clinical trial will evaluate the benefits of wearing surgical masks compared to filtering face piece masks during COVID-19 patient care, according to the present recommendations of the World Health Organization.

Expected results and envisaged products

The real-time sensing system with an integrated aerosol sampler, a micro-processing system and an LSPR (localised surface plasmon resonance) biosensor will be miniaturised into a portable system and will allow precise virus detection, discrimination and identification. The biosensor will quantify the shedding of SARS-CoV-2 in the air. The airborne virus concentrations in the COVID-19 patient rooms and at various distances from the patients will be derived, which will facilitate estimation of the viral exposure for the healthcare workers. The cluster-randomised trial will put the findings of the biosensor into a clinical perspective on selecting the appropriate masking strategy. We expect that selective filtering face piece 2 (FFP2) masking is not inferior to universal FFP2 masking.

Specific contribution to tackle the current pandemic

This project will provide an alternative and reliable method in clinical diagnosis and a critical tool for monitoring of SARS-CoV-2 transmission. The real-time detection system will contribute evidence to the debate on the role of droplets and aerosols in SARS-CoV-2 transmission, and to risk assessment for healthcare workers. It is hoped that combining biosensor data with clinical findings will drive improvements in hospital practice with regard to the protection of healthcare workers and reduce the risk of healthcare-associated SARS-CoV-2 infection.