UVA testing wastewater at dorms to detect coronavirus

UVA testing wastewater at dorms to detect coronavirus
Testing wastewater on UVA Grounds to detect coronavirus (Source: Dr. Amy Mathers)

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Scientists at the University of Virginia are digging deep into the pipes on grounds to detect the presence of the coronavirus, one flush at a time.

“We collect the sample over a 24-hour period so we can get every flushing event, and then it takes us about 10 hours to process the sample,” Dr. Amy Mathers, infectious disease physician and clinical microbiology associate director at UVA, said.

Since early June, researchers have been testing the wastewater at dorms where positive cases were detected to serve as controls.

As students move onto UVA grounds, UVA Wastewater Treatment Engineer Lisa Colosi Peterson says the plan is to test the dorms six days a week for COVID-19 to stay ahead of the spread.

“The goal is to use the dorm wastewater as a pooled sample so that we can surveillance for COVID, as opposed to having each individual student come give us a test or have a test,” Peterson said.

Samples are gathered every 15 minutes in the morning. The next day, they are collected and transported to the Health System for a screening.

“We want to prevent community transmission by getting ahead,” Peterson said. “But for students sitting safely on grounds, they’re going to have to do the things we already know.”

While Dr. Mathers is worried about detecting false positives in the wastewater, she’s hopeful this proactive approach can help contain the virus while it’s contagious.

“The idea is that you shed COVID quite early in your stool, and so hopefully we won’t see large outbreaks. We will get ahead of it,” she said.

Dr. Mathers says the University of Virginia has been closely collaborating with Syracuse University, where they have been having success with their own wastewater testing.

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