Researchers At OU Testing Sewage From Dorms To Detect COVID-19 Early


Friday, September 4th 2020, 9:59 pm
By: Erick Payne


NORMAN, Okla. -

Researchers at the University of Oklahoma are using a new method to help detect potential COVID-19 hotspots on campus: testing wastewater.

Scientists will be testing wastewater samples at several different sites on campus. University leaders said it's because those who have COVID-19 typically shed the virus in their waste before they even have symptoms.

It's the nice way of saying, if you've got the virus it can be found in your stool.

The University of Oklahoma is analyzing wastewater daily from different areas of the Norman campus.

They said it will help identify if students or staff in that building have COVID-19, before they themselves may realize it.

"When an individual contracts COVID-19, they may start shedding virus for two to three days before the onset of symptoms,” Graduate College Dean and Biology Professor Randy Hewes said. “We also know there are a lot of people who are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms and may not know they have the disease.”

He said testing the wastewater is very precise, it can pick up one person with COVID-19 out of about 10,000.

"So the goal for OU is to identify areas that are experiencing potentially higher levels of infection,” Hewes said. “That'll allow us to respond appropriately to follow up testing or other mitigation efforts.”

Hewes said this could also allow them to find cases about a week earlier than they would through other methods.

He said the wastewater testing started several weeks ago. Members of several different departments, public health agencies and the Oklahoma Water Survey are helping with the effort.

This kind of testing is happening at other schools across the U.S.

"There are a few other places doing it,” Hewes said. “I do think it's pretty cutting-edge research and it's something that is potentially quite a bit of value for studying other diseases.”