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Taiwan lists 3 possible ways COVID lab infection occurred

Academia Sinica cites inhalation, contaminated gloves, early removal of mask as three possible routes of COVID infection

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P3 lab worker in full protective gear. (National Health Research Institutes photo)

P3 lab worker in full protective gear. (National Health Research Institutes photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) on Monday (Dec. 20) released the results of a report by Academia Sinica listing three possible routes by which a research assistant might have been infected with COVID in the lab.

On Dec. 11, the CECC verified that an assistant researcher, case No. 16,816, had contracted COVID while working in a P3 (Biosafety Level-3) facility. The laboratory is located inside Academia Sinica's Genomics Research Center (GRC), which is situated in Taipei's Nangang District.

During a press conference on Monday, CECC head Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) announced the results of a report on the laboratory-acquired infection (LAI) released by the Academia Sinica on Sunday (Dec. 19). The report describes the incident, contingency measures, infection route investigation, overall investigation results and analysis of the root cause, assessment of responsibility, and planned future improvements.

A review of personnel interviews, surveillance camera footage from mid-to-late November, and laboratory use logs resulted in the identification of the following three risk factors:

  1. Environmental pollution exists in both the experimental operation area and the non-operation area.
    When operating on experimental animals, it was not carried out in a biosafety cabinet. Dirty bedding was directly placed in an unsealed bag and was not placed in a container with a lid.
  2. The case and other laboratory personnel performed experiments with only general protective equipment.
    The worker did not wear N95 masks, double gloves, goggles, or face shields.
  3. The case took off the mask first during the process of removing protective equipment.

Based on the above-listed infection exposure risk factors, the institute has determined that there were three possible routes of infection:

  1. Direct inhalation into respiratory tract.
    The case directly inhaled the virus from contaminated dust from bedding or infected animals were stimulated to spray droplets or aerosol.
  2. Surface of gloves contaminated when mantling animals.
    When the mask was accidentally taken off first during the process of removing protective equipment, the case may have inadvertently touched her face, mouth, nose, and other body parts.
  3. Outer layer of protective equipment contaminated by objects with the virus in operating area.
    When the mask was accidentally taken off first during the process of removing protective equipment, the case's mouth and nose were exposed to the virus.

In addition, the institute has identified the following seven issues that must be addressed to improve lab safety:

  1. Personnel training and operation guidance
  2. Standard operation procedures (SOP) in labs
  3. Monitoring of experimental operational processes
  4. Process of wearing and removing PPE
  5. Accident notification process
  6. Animal science application audits and use of infectious biological materials
  7. Systemic problems that caused the incident

The CECC also pointed out that in addition to the GRC, the other 11 domestic P3 laboratories that experiment on COVID were all inspected on Dec. 17, and no major deficiencies were found.