The University of Arizona is Testing Sewage from Dorms to Prevent Coronavirus Outbreaks

The University of Arizona is using an unconventional testing technique to search for traces of the novel coronavirus on campus.

School officials were successful in finding positive cases of the coronavirus this week after regularly screening the sewage from all of the dorms on campus, The Washington Post reported.

By testing wastewater samples from the dorms, officials are able to quickly find traces of the virus and immediately test all students and employees at the dorm to locate the positive cases.

On Tuesday, the screening found signs of the virus at Likins Hall and tested 311 people, of which two asymptomatic students tested positive. These students immediately quarantined, according to the Post.

“With this early detection, we jumped on it right away, tested those youngsters, and got them the appropriate isolation where they needed to be,” Richard Carmona, a leader of the school’s reentry task force, said in a news conference.

The University of Arizona is one of several schools around the country testing sewage to locate possible outbreaks of the virus. According to the Post, Syracuse University and the University of California at San Diego are also using this testing process.

Along with the United States, programs in Singapore, China, Spain, Canada, New Zealand, the Netherlands, and the U.K. have been testing this way as well.

During the news conference, Carmona went on to explain the importance of finding asymptomatic carriers on campus.

"You think about if we had missed it, if we had waited until they became symptomatic and they stayed in that dorm for days, or a week, or the whole incubation period, how many other people would have been infected?” he said.

According to the Post, the University of Arizona has had 46 positive coronavirus cases as of Thursday — one week after the school went back for the fall semester.

However, the University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins said "it's evitable" that the cases will go up on campus.

"The issue is going to be can we handle the steady flow of cases or do we get a big spike in cases that overwhelms our ability to isolate and continue to test," he said in the news conference.

Several schools have been struggling with similar issues as they reopen amid the pandemic, including the University of Alabama which reported more than 566 coronavirus cases across several campuses.

Last week Notre Dame halted in-person classes for two weeks following a surge of COVID-19 cases just eight days after beginning its fall semester. Similarly, an Oklahoma State University sorority is under quarantine after 23 members tested positive for the respiratory illness days before the start of the fall semester.

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