Wastewater is the sewage or dirty water from homes and businesses sent to a wastewater treatment plant.
Wastewater Monitoring as an Early-Alert System
USU is using a multi-pronged testing and tracing strategy to identify and address cases of COVID-19 in the campus community. Using a combination of “early-alert” wastewater monitoring, self-reporting, notification of USU-affiliated cases from local health departments, and contact tracing, USU is working with local and state health officials to identify and contain COVID-19 cases.
Early detection of COVID-19 cases (potentially before any symptoms are felt) is complex and requires scientific methods and experience to knowledgably interpret and use the data collected. Fortunately, USU has a deep bench of personnel and research that supports this work. Wastewater monitoring at USU is done at a variety of scales, times and locations, and has been underway on campus for several months.
This monitoring is not designed to identify specific cases, but rather locations (zones) on campus where specific efforts can be made to identify and reduce illness. Because of our broader work and collaboration, the university is also able to compare wastewater results with baseline data for the local community and other locations in the state.
On-campus monitoring may help determine risk of transmission at, for example, particular area of student housing or athletic facilities. When combined with other data (self-reported and from the local and state health departments), wastewater testing provides an opportunity to focus resources for communicating risk; reinforcing social distancing, face-covering, and hygiene standards; and testing individuals where the need is greatest.
Collaboration in Monitoring
USU works to understand, evaluate, and use data from wastewater monitoring in coordination with institutional authorities and local and state health officials. Importantly, wastewater monitoring conducted at Utah State University occurs in coordination with Utah Department of Environmental Quality; in collaboration with other major research universities in the state; and in communication with local and state health authorities, other universities conducting on-campus monitoring, and federal agencies and authorities.
Monitoring on USU Campuses
Individuals infected with COVID-19 shed the RNA from the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 in feces and urine throughout their illness. Monitoring for the virus in wastewater sewage provides an aggregate measure of COVID-19 prevalence and transmission rate across communities defined by sewer lines. These are “pooled” or “aggregate” samples, where anyone using those sewer lines may have contributed.
Wastewater monitoring on the Logan campus began July 1 and is currently underway and includes six main areas of campus:
- Aggie Village
- Student Living Center Community
- South Campus Community
- Central Campus Community
- Living and Learning Community
- West Stadium Community
Federal agencies have initiated the NWSS to help public health officials to better understand the extent of COVID-19 infections in communities.