Context: Studies of lungs in patients with COVID-19 have focused on early findings.

Objective: To systematically study histopathologic, imaging features and presence of SARSCoV-2 RNA in lung tissue from patients in later stages of COVID-19.

Design: Autopsies, explants, surgical lung biopsies; and transbronchial, cryo, and needle biopsies were studied from patients with COVID-19, whose onset of symptoms/confirmed diagnosis was more than 28 days before the procedure. Available images were reviewed. Reverse transcription droplet digital polymerase chain reaction (RT-ddPCR) for SARS-CoV-2 RNA was performed on lung tissue.

Results: Forty-four specimens (43 patients, median age 59.3 years, 26 [60.5%] male) showed features of acute lung injury (ALI) in 39 (88.6%), predominantly organizing pneumonia (OP) and diffuse alveolar damage (DAD), up to 298 days after onset of COVID-19. Fibrotic changes were found in 33 specimens (75%), most commonly fibrotic DAD (N=22) and cicatricial OP (N=12). Time between acquiring COVID-19 and specimen was shorter in patients with diffuse ALI (median 61.5 days) compared to patients with focal (140 days) or no ALI (130 days) (P=.009). Sixteen (of 20, 80%) SARS-CoV-2 RT-ddPCR tests were positive, up to 174 days after COVID-19 onset. Time between COVID-19 onset and most recent CT in patients with consolidation on imaging was shorter (median 43.0 days) versus patients without consolidation (87.5 days; P=.02). Reticulations were associated with longer time after COVID-19 onset to CT (median 82 days vs 23.5 days, P=.006).

Conclusions: ALI and SARS-CoV-2 RNA can be detected in patients with COVID-19 for many months. ALI may evolve into fibrotic interstitial lung disease.

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Author notes

The authors have no relevant financial interest in the products or companies described in this article.

Supplementary data