In the fall, Utah State University was one of only five colleges using wastewater monitoring to identify SARS-CoV-2 in sewage from residence halls.
The idea was that wastewater tracking can serve as an early detection system. By routinely testing samples for the virus, technicians could pinpoint which facilities may have unidentified cases and conduct testing that could prevent an outbreak. Just days before classes began, samples came back positive. Testing found several asymptomatic students, prompting the university to quarantine four dorms. The pilot program began with 10 facilities in Utah and has grown to 65 facilities statewide.
“Analyzing wastewater to monitor an infectious disease was implemented previously to monitor the polio virus,” says Keith Roper, a USU professor of biological engineering leading the effort. “This is the first time, however, that wastewater monitoring has been performed using modern technologies at a broad scale during a pandemic.”