Sewage used for COVID-19 contact tracing at Cal Poly

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Posted at 5:42 PM, Mar 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-03 01:47:32-05

Cal Poly professors figured out a way to keep people on campus safe by tracking COVID-19 through the plumbing. At the labs on campus, they use saliva and human waste to contact trace for the coronavirus.

Vinay, a student lab assistant and third-year student explained, “The two basically complement each other. Wastewater kind of gives you an idea of where there might be a cluster of cases and then you can use saliva to target that approach.”

Scientists uncover manholes, stick a tube down to get samples of waste, and test that to see the strength of COVID-19 in that specific location.

If the concentration of the virus surpasses a certain benchmark, the university alerts the inhabitants.

Then, officials will deploy saliva testing to narrow down who may have it, who is recovering, and who is an asymptomatic carrier.

“So if the wastewater tells you if the whole dorm is testing positive. You can use saliva to test the dorm specifically and see who is sick in there,” Vinay said.

The university keeps that data for contact tracing both for people in that infected building and for those who might have come into contact with anyone infected recently.

Professor Aydin Nazmi said, “The quicker you identify a case, the quicker you can act on isolation, quarantine, contact tracing. The less time infected individuals are out in the community spreading it to others.”

On campus, they have isolation teams to help people who are infected recover, but right now the university says it has less than a 1% positivity rate.

All members of the campus community can sign up to take a COVID-19 test for free. The nasal swab and saliva-based testing has been available to students for the last few weeks.