At the University of Arizona, officials say sewage surveillance helped them detect a pair of coronavirus cases after students moved back onto campus, a strategy that officials say may have prevented more people from being infected.
The school has started testing the wastewater for all of the campus dormitories, University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins said during a Thursday briefing.
On Tuesday night, he said, there was a signal in the waste.
A previous test of all the dorms’ wastewater had come up negative, but Robbins said Ian Pepper, director of the university’s Water and Energy Sustainable Technology Center, had now found “an increased viral load coming out of the wastewater” of one dorm, Likins Hall.
The next day, the university tested everyone in that dorm.
“We did test — I think there are 311 individuals in that dorm — and we did the antigen test, we did them all yesterday and found two positive cases,” Robbins said.
The infected individuals have been isolated and their contacts are being traced, Robbins said.
The school’s reentry testing results found that out of 10,126 antigen tests administered from July 31 through Aug. 26, there were 46 positive results, according to its online dashboard. The fall semester began Monday, with a mix of in-person and online classes.
Pepper told the Arizona Republic last month that he and his team plan to test wastewater samples from the school’s 20 dorms throughout the school year.
The Post reported in May that researchers say the virus can be found in untreated wastewater within days of infection and up to two weeks before a person would feel sick enough to get care.
Richard Carmona, the director of the university’s reentry task force and a former U.S. surgeon general, called the wastewater testing strategy “pretty slick.”
“Who would have ever thought of that, that monitoring the effluent from certain buildings and being able to then detect virus in that effluent before anybody is even sick, before you know it,” Carmona said during the briefing. “And that’s what happened just recently here.”
He said without the early detection through the wastewater testing, the cases may never have been known.
Carmona added: “If we had missed it, if we had waited until they became symptomatic, and they stayed in that dorm for days, or a week, or the whole incubation period, how many other people would have been infected?"