Safe Handling, Storage and Disposal of Positive COVID-19 Test Samples

  • by Kevin Driggers
  • Sep 14, 2020, 13:19 PM

In August 2020, The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) advised government laboratories to retain all positive COVID-19 samples at ultra-low temperatures for 30 days, then disinfect the samples before disposal. Some respiratory samples will need to be kept even longer — even a year or more — in ultra-low temperature freezers, for future testing and quality control purposes.

  • According to the new ICMR guidelines, all samples in long-term cold storage must be appropriately labeled with laboratory identifiers and collection dates.

  • Positive COVID-19 test samples must be kept in -80 C deep freezers.

  • All government-run Indian labs will send five random positive and as many negative samples per month to quality control labs.

Beyond that, ICMR says many positive COVID-19 samples must be kept in government labs for one year. The number of retained samples will vary among labs, but ICMR is looking for 50 positive samples at each lab, or 1 – 2 % of total monthly samples, whichever is smaller. 

Here in the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has continuously updated biosafety guidelines throughout the pandemic. 

Some general and specific biosafety guidelines for handling SARS-CoV-2 specimens are provided in this blog. For additional information on handling and storing SARS-CoV-2 specimens, check out the CDC's Laboratory Frequently Asked Questions.

Reminder: Laboratory Biosafety Guidelines for Specimens Associated with COVID-19

At ABS, our customers are laboratories around the globe. We care about your wellbeing during these intense months. We want to remind our customers about some essential points of safety, communication and risk mitigation.

We know there's still much to learn about this novel Coronavirus. As it stands, precautions should be taken in handling respiratory samples — whether suspected or confirmed — for SARS-CoV-2. Communication between clinical collection points and lab staff remains essential and will minimize the risks associated with handling these potentially hazardous specimens.

  • Remind clinics and testing facilities that suspected / confirmed respiratory samples should be labeled, and that receiving labs should be alerted of them to ensure proper handling.

  • Communication within the receiving laboratory should also be paramount. Whether verbal or written, make sure your employees are in constant communication regarding the status of respiratory samples on-site and in storage.

  • Develop a system for logging positive respiratory samples to be maintained in ultra-low temperature storage. While a deeply frozen state removes the need for "first in / first out" handling, it's still a familiar and straightforward process. In the future, it might provide some vital information about this virus' ability to mutate.

  • If you contract with a biomedical waste remover, have a chat with the techs and supervisors to ensure they're up-to-date on COVID-19 biomedical waste collection safety measures.

Risk Assessments & Mitigation

By now, your lab staff has performed site-specific and activity-specific risk assessments and has applied mitigation measures. You've probably tasked one or two key employees with regular risk assessment.

The CDC says risk assessments and mitigation measures are unique to each lab, depending on:

  • Procedures performed

  • The hazards involved in the process and / or procedures

  • Personnel competency and training 

  • The lab's equipment and facility

  • And other resources available

In response to the unique risk levels, your lab is likely:

  • Stocking more PPE, and staff is inspecting it thoroughly before use

  • Disinfecting surfaces more often

  • Storing positive samples in ultra-low temperature freezers

  • Monitoring and logging temperatures of refrigerators and freezers

Training Laboratory Staff

These are historic times, and lab managers may see an influx of recruits into the field. Other semi-retired or part-time lab techs may find themselves seeking more work. No matter how experienced a tech seems, be sure to run them through a complete training process before handling respiratory samples. 

  • Per the CDC, "At a minimum, all personnel—whether practicing anatomic or clinical pathology—should follow Standard Precautions when handling patient tissues and specimens."

And beyond that, OSHA says "Laboratory employers should routinely review standard laboratory practices and safety with lab staff, train and test the competency of employees on appropriate implementation of these procedures and practices, and ensure consistent adherence to them.

On Disinfection & Disposal of COVID-19 Samples

We still have much to learn about this novel Coronavirus. Still, the comparable genetic characteristics with SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV suggest that 2019-nCoV is susceptible to disinfectants with proven activity against the known enveloped viruses with which we are already familiar. 

  • Sodium hypochlorite (bleach) — specifically 1,000 ppm (0.1%) for general surface disinfection and 10,000 ppm (1%) for disinfection of blood spills

  • A 62-71% ethanol solution

  • Solutions of 0.5% hydrogen peroxide, quaternary ammonium compounds and phenolic compounds, used per manufacturer's recommendations

  • Note that other known biocidal agents like 0.05-0.2% benzalkonium chloride might be less effective, and are not recommended.

Put plainly, disinfection with standard bleach or ethanol is fine. 

Ultra-low Temperature Storage for COVID-19 Respiratory Samples

American BioTech Supply is proud to be your source for the ultra-low temperature freezers, needed in the battle against COVID-19. Our offerings include a full range of temperature-controlled equipment to our customers in the laboratory and clinical research, healthcare, pharmaceutical, and industrial fields.  

Our portfolio of quality products ranges from small capacity countertop refrigerators and freezers to cryogenic freezers for long-term sample preservation. All ABS products are available in various configurations, from general-purpose cold storage to medical and pharmaceutical storage, to meet the most stringent temperature performance needs. 

Check out our website for the highest quality:

  • 4°C Refrigerators

  • -20°C to -40°C Low-Temperature Freezers

  • And -86°C Ultra-Low Temperature Freezers — ideal for long term COVID-19 sample storage

With ramped up production and stocked product inventory, most of our top selling products can ship within five business days. Our lead times have been reduced on almost every ultra-low temperature freezer we manufacture to support your lab in the battle against Coronavirus.


Related Reading & Resources:

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services: Coronavirus Coronavirus Testing

Indian Council of Medical Research: National Guidelines for Ethics Committees Reviewing Biomedical & Health Research During COVID-19 Pandemic

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