Colleges Look To Wastewater To Get A Jump On Coronavirus
Since the coronavirus started sweeping through the U.S., multiple research efforts have gotten underway to figure out how wastewater can provide clues about its spread. Now, some colleges and universities are planning to put wastewater under a microscope as an early warning system when students come back to campus this fall.
As part of the reopening strategy at Syracuse University in New York, officials plan to routinely test sewage leaving each dorm to spot signs of the virus. If the lab results show a sudden spike of coronavirus in the sewage, the university can start testing students in that building to get a jump on a potential outbreak before they even become sick.
The idea is that changes in wastewater may provide about a week’s notice, which will be helpful since a person can be infected and start shedding the virus through their intestines up to a week before showing symptoms, said a public health professor at Syracuse who is leading the effort. Tracking wastewater may also help locate those with very mild symptoms who would otherwise never get tested, and people who never develop symptoms, called asymptomatic cases.
Syracuse has 19 dorms that can hold about 6,000 students and the plan is to test wastewater from each dorm twice per week.
Several laboratories have reportedly achieved a proof-of-concept to demonstrate the ability to detect the genetic material of the virus in wastewater. Some studies have shown that the virus can be detected about a week before the first clinical case.
Other schools, such as Clemson in South Carolina, will also be testing its wastewater to determine if there is a spike in COVID-19 in the campus community. The testing is part of a three-phase effort to bring students, faculty, and staff back to Clemson for the fall semester.