How USU Is Using Wastewater Testing As Part Of COVID-19 Mitigation Plans

Sep 1, 2020

Before fall semester at Utah State University began on Monday, students in four on-campus housing residence halls were quarantined due to increased levels of SARS-CoV-2 in the wastewater. This testing is part of the university's plan to reduce the spread of the virus. 

Since the beginning of the pandemic, wastewater testing has helped with early detection of the coronavirus. According to Amanda DeRito, Director of Crisis Communications at Utah State University, when testing the wastewater samples, scientists are looking for RNA from SARS-CoV-2 which causes COVID-19.

“So we pull samples from parts of campus," explained DeRito. "So there's a sample pools that included, that includes residence hall, there's other samples that include other areas of campus. And it just helps us monitor for cases that might be popping up. Before people even start to have symptoms.”

This year, the number of students living in the dorms is down 10% said DeRito. This gives the university the opportunity to create rooms where students can quarantine if needed.

Some members of the campus community have expressed concerns that wastewater testing is an invasion of privacy. DeRito’s response is that wastewater testing is less intrusive  than coronavirus nasal swabs. 

“So a lot of universities in order to monitor cases within the population are looking at testing upon moving, but then testing even twice a week, to monitor for cases," said DeRito. "What we're doing is looking for overall trends in the community and then targeting our testing where we really need to touch people to contain the cases, we have to remember that we all want to be here.”

Students in quarantine can fill out the COVID Questionnaire to activate the COVID Care team to arrange the necessary resources for these students.