Catching the next campus outbreak: Wright State, other schools test wastewater for coronavirus

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Wright State University joins over a dozen other universities across Ohio in testing wastewater to detect coronavirus on their campuses.

“We are doing this as a way of guarding against outbreaks,” said Abimbola Ola Kolawole, a research assistant professor at Wright State.

Wright State announced it will be participating in a state-funded program that tests wastewater to detect coronavirus.

The sampling program will take place at its main campus in Dayton and its Lake campus in Celina in an effort to catch COVID-19 early. According to a release, the sampling effort will be focused on residential halls on both campuses.

Those that are infected with coronavirus shed virus particles through their feces when they go to the bathroom. Wastewater testing can detect traces of COVID-19 in sewage up to a week before physical symptoms may occur in a person, and it can detect infections in those that are asymptomatic.

Wastewater testing cannot inform the university who is infected, but a positive test would indicate that at least one campus resident is ill and allows the university to respond.

Wright State is among 15 universities that were awarded a grant to test wastewater. Schools across Ohio such as Kent State, Ohio State University, University of Toledo, University of Akron, and Ohio University are some of the other campuses that have implemented this program.

“The ability to provide a two- to three-day warning about areas likely to experience a spike in cases is critical to providing adequate health care and other mitigation means to beating this virus,” said Xiaozhen Mou, an associate professor at Kent State University.

In the fall of 2020, an initiative was launched to test public sewer systems throughout Ohio. The initiative involved the Ohio Department of Health, the Ohio EPA and the Ohio Water Resources Center.

Ohio State University has been working with the ODH testing wastewater not only on campus but across the state.

ExplorePrevious Coverage: Wastewater coronavirus testing to be used in Dayton and around state

According to the Ohio State website, its team receives and tests wastewater samples from Columbus, Cleveland, Newark, Lancaster, Athens, Delaware, Marysville and Marietta. As well as Ohio prisons.

“We are trying to assess what the level of infection seen in the concentrations actually means, and if rises in the sample numbers indicate something to be concerned about and respond to,” said Mark Weir, assistant professor of environmental health sciences.

For some students, this is an educational experience as well.

Kolawole and his students were trained to properly collect and test the samples, following safety guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Wright State.

The program offers the students a chance to learn about the coronavirus while gaining experience working in a laboratory. “They are very excited to go out and collect samples themselves,” Kolawole said.

You can view the Ohio Department of Health wastewater testing data and information by clicking here.

About the Author