Ben Siegel/Ohio University
The University’s COVID-19 wastewater surveillance program has resulted in not only targeted asymptomatic testing of students on the Athens campus, but also some questions.
Last week select students were asked to take rapid COVID-19 tests based on findings from OHIO’s wastewater testing program. According to Gillian Ice, special assistant to the president for public health operations, this testing request resulted in questions from students about campus water quality.
“Absolutely the water on campus is safe to drink, shower in or anything else,” Ice said. “The water that comes out of our faucets comes from the city’s water treatment facility. After it is used, it goes into the wastewater system – that is what we are testing for evidence of the virus that causes COVID-19.”
Wastewater (also known as sewage) includes water from household and building use (toilets, showers, sinks, etc.) and can contain human fecal waste. It travels through a different system than drinking water. Individuals with asymptomatic or symptomatic COVID-19 infection can shed SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in their feces. OHIO is testing some wastewater on the Athens campus for SARS-CoV-2.
“When wastewater test results indicate an elevated level of the virus, we may choose to ask individuals from associated buildings to take a rapid test so that we can identify a potential cluster,” Ice said. So far, further testing has identified a few positive cases.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), wastewater testing has successfully been used for early detection of other diseases, such as polio, and can provide information on changes in total COVID-19 infection in a community. Learn more about wastewater testing for COVID-19 from the CDC.
Read more:: A deeper dive into wastewater testing