Asymptomatic Pre-Operative COVID-19 Screening for Essential and Elective Surgeries: Early Results of Universal Screening at a Midwestern Academic Medical Center

Nathan R. Hendrickson, Kyle Kesler, David E. DeMik, Natalie A. Glass, Matthew K. Watson, Bradley A. Ford, Jorge L. Salinas, Andrew J. Pugely

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Background: During the novel Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) worldwide pandemic, viral testing has largely focused on patients presenting with fever and respiratory symptoms. Although Centers for Disease Control has reported 1,551,095 cases in the United States as of May 21, 2020, asymptomatic infection rates remain unknown within the U.S., especially in geographically disparate regions.

Methods: On April 7, 2020 our hospital established universal SARS-CoV-2 screening using RT-PCR RNA detection from nasopharyngeal swabs from asymptomatic patients prior to essential and elective surgeries. This study included 1,997 asymptomatic patients undergoing surgical procedures and 1,797 admitted for medical management at a Midwestern academic hospital between April 7, 2020 and May 21, 2020.

Results: As of May 21, asymptomatic testing for SARS-CoV-2 infection had been completed for 1,997 surgical patients and 1,797 non-surgical patients. Initial testing was positive in 26 patients, with an additional four positive tests occurring during repeat testing when greater than 48 hours had elapsed since initial testing. Overall asymptomatic infection rate was 0.79%. Asymptomatic infection rate was significantly lower in surgical patients (0.35% vs. 1.28%, p=0.001). Surgical patients tended to be older than non-surgical patients, although this was not statistically significant (51, IQR 27-65 vsx 46, IQR 28-64, p=0.057). Orthopedic surgery patients were significantly younger than those from other surgical services (42 vs. 53 yrs, p<0.001), however orthopedic and non-orthopedic surgical patients had similar asymptomatic infection rates (0.70% vs. 0.25%, p=0.173).

Conclusion: Among asymptomatic patients tested at a Midwestern academic medical center, 0.79% were infected with SARS-CoV-2 virus. These findings will help guide screening protocols at medical centers while providing essential and elective procedures during the COVID-19 pandemic. While the asymptomatic infection rate was low, this data substantiates the threat of asymptomatic infections and potential for community viral spread. These results may not be generalizable to large urban population centers or areas with high concentrations of COVID-19, each region must use available data to evaluate the risk-benefit ratio of universal testing vs universal contact precautions. Level of Evidence: IV.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)33-38
Number of pages6
JournalThe Iowa orthopaedic journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © The Iowa Orthopaedic Journal 2021.


  • asymptomatic
  • coronavirus
  • covid
  • covid-19
  • elective surgeries
  • essential surgeries
  • midwestern
  • pre-operative
  • sars-cov-2
  • screening
  • Pandemics
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Male
  • Asymptomatic Diseases
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • United States/epidemiology
  • COVID-19/epidemiology
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Academic Medical Centers
  • COVID-19 Testing/statistics & numerical data
  • Mass Screening/methods
  • Elective Surgical Procedures
  • Preoperative Period

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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