J Korean Med Sci.  2021 Jan;36(4):e38. 10.3346/jkms.2021.36.e38.

Epidemiologic Linkage of COVID-19 Outbreaks at Two University-affiliated Hospitals in the Seoul Metropolitan Area in March 2020

  • 1Department of Laboratory Medicine, University of Ulsan College of Medicine and Asan Medical Center, Seoul, Korea
  • 2Department of Laboratory Medicine, Uijeongbu St. Mary's Hospital, College of Medicine, The Catholic University of Korea, Uijeongbu, Korea
  • 3ChunLab Inc., Seoul, Korea
  • 4Department of infectious disease, University of Ulsan College of Medicine and Asan Medical Center, Seoul, Korea
  • 5Department of Pediatrics, University of Ulsan College of Medicine and Asan Medical Center, Seoul, Korea
  • 6Department of Biological Sciences, Seoul National University, Seoul, Korea


Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreaks emerged at two universityaffiliated hospitals in Seoul (hospital A) and Uijeongbu City (hospital S) in the metropolitan Seoul area in March 2020. The aim of this study was to investigate epidemiological links between the outbreaks using whole genome sequencing (WGS) of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).
Fifteen patients were enrolled in the study, including four non-outbreak (A1–A4) and three outbreak cases (A5–A7) in hospital A and eight cases (S1–S8) in hospital S. Patients' hospital stays, COVID-19 symptoms, and transfer history were reviewed. RNA samples were submitted for WGS and genome-wide single nucleotide variants and phylogenetic relationships were analyzed.
The index patient (A5) in hospital A was transferred from hospital S on 26 March. Patients A6 and A7 were the family caregiver and sister, respectively, of the patient who shared a room with A5 for 4 days. Prior to transfer, A5 was at the next bed to S8 in the emergency room on 25 March. Patient S6, a professional caregiver, took care of the patient in the room next to S8's room for 5 days until 22 March and then S5 for another 3 days. WGS revealed that SARS-CoV-2 in A2, A3, and A4 belong to clades V/B.2, S/A, and G/B.1, respectively, whereas that of A5–A7 and S1-S5 are of the V/B.2.1 clade and closely clustered. In particular, SARS-CoV-2 in patients A5 and S5 showed perfect identity.
WGS is a useful tool to understand epidemiology of SARS-CoV-2. It is the first study to elucidate the role of patient transfer and caregivers as links of nosocomial outbreaks of COVID-19 in multiple hospitals.


COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; Nosocomial Outbreak; Whole Genome Sequencing; Clade; Lineage
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