The University of Arizona (UoA) is analysing sewage from student dorms to detect Covid-19.
The waste produced across the university’s halls of residence is being processed twice weekly in order to fight against coronavirus.
As a result, UoA has announced its highest number of Covid-19 cases among its faculty, students and staff in one day, with 126 positive tests, something it attributes to the wastewater testing system. It is believed that this analysis can also provide early detection of the virus before an outbreak occurs.
Dr Robert Robbins, UoA president, explained how the system enabled him to prevent a potential outbreak in a campus dorm.
He said: “I got a call night before last to say Dr Pepper has picked up a signal in one of the dorms… We went over, we tested all of the students and staff that worked there and we found two positive cases which we turned over to isolation.”
The infected students were put into quarantine for two weeks, and received all lessons virtually. 54 students are currently in on-campus isolation.
Dr Richard Carmona, who is also involved in the waste detection program, said: “Nobody would have known otherwise, but with this early detection, we jumped on it right away, tested those youngsters and got them the appropriate isolation where they needed to be.”
We’re also seeing a significant uptick in the number of symptomatic cases being seen at Campus Health. In this context, we have ramped up both testing and both compliance enforcement
– Dr Richard Carmona
Most of the new UoA cases were asymptomatic, and waste analysis was the only indicator that they were carrying the virus.
However, Dr Robbins said: “We’re also seeing a significant uptick in the number of symptomatic cases being seen at Campus Health. In this context, we have ramped up both testing and both compliance enforcement.”
In practice, this means that the UoA has hired monitors to patrol campus for Covid-19 safety reasons. The monitors will not intervene, but rather “remind” students to socially distance and wear their masks properly.
They will also report non-compliance to the dean of students.
This comes after a recent outbreak on campus linked to a sorority house party.
University officials have warned that the main problem they face is monitoring and controlling off-campus students, who constitute the majority of Covid-19 cases, according to Vice President of Communications Holly Jensen.