ARIZONA – By testing wastewater in a student dorm, the University of Arizona found early signs of COVID-19, and were able to head off an outbreak there.
Researchers at the school have looked for traces of the virus in wastewater samples taken from the greater Tucson area since March and have gathered samples from 20 buildings on the UA campus since school started, according to azcentral.com.
Data collected from the dorms found higher viral loads in wastewater samples taken from one particular dorm, which led to more testing. A team led by Dr. Ian Pepper, director of the University’s Water and Energy Sustainable Technology Center, tested the samples five more times to confirm the findings, then tested all residents living in that facility.
In total, about 311 people were tested, and two positive cases were reported. Both of the students, who were asymptomatic carriers, were placed in isolation, preventing any further spread of the virus in the dorm.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, genetic material from the virus can shed in the feces of infected patients, whether they are symptomatic or asymptomatic, but little is still known about how much of the virus is shed in stool or how long it is shed.
The University of Arizona’s wastewater testing program will continue throughout the schoolyear in an attempt to further squelch the spread of the virus on campus.