In the News
New York Times Sunday, Sep. 06, 2020
Days after he crossed the country to start college, Ryan Schmutz received a text message from Utah State University: COVID-19 had been detected at his dorm. Within 10 minutes, he dropped the crepes he was making and was whisked away by bus to a testing site. “We didn’t even know they were testing,” said Schmutz, who is 18 and from Omaha, Nebraska. “It all really happened fast.” Schmutz was one of about 300 students quarantined to their rooms last week, but not because of sickness reports or positive tests. Instead, the warning bells came from the sewage.Colleges across the nation — from New Mexico to Tennessee, Michigan to New York — are turning tests of waste into a public health tool. The work comes as institutions hunt for ways to keep campuses open despite vulnerabilities like students' close living arrangements and drive to socialize. The virus has already left its mark with outbreaks that have forced changes to remote learning at colleges around the country. The tests work by detecting genetic material from the virus, which can be recovered from the stools of about half of people with COVID-19, studies indicate. The concept has also been used to look for outbreaks of the polio virus. ... And this week, Utah State's positive wastewater test could be narrowed only as far as four residence halls that share the same sewer system. The test came back positive late Aug. 29, and the quarantine started the next day. Students were required to stay in their rooms, eating meals delivered by a “COVID care” team and barred from walking more than a few steps outside the residence hall. The buildings are laid out in apartment-style suites, and students were released from quarantine in small groups if every roommate in a suite tested negative. The tests had turned up four coronavirus cases as of Thursday.