OU researchers study student housing wastewater for COVID-19 trends

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NORMAN, Okla. (KFOR) – University of Oklahoma researchers are now testing the student housing wastewater to catch spikes in COVID-19 on campus.

On Monday, Oklahoma Water Survey Director Jason Vogel, PhD and his partner traveled to five different locations to collect the wastewater from five different dormitories.

It has become a daily practice for the civil engineering professor between noon and 2 p.m.

“We’re trying to collect water at a time when there’s the most amount of sewage coming in,” Vogel said.

That sample can reveal to researchers critical information.

“This definitely can be an early warning,” said OU microbiologist association professor Bradley Stevenson, PhD said.

He’s heading the program, and studies the samples, which typically has a 24-hour turnaround time.

“What we’re doing is actually monitoring the levels of COVID-19 in the wastewater,” Stevenson said. “When an individual has COVID-19, they shed the virus through their feces and we can actually detect that.”

It’s a method universities and cities worldwide are employing to determine trends over time.

Evaluating the data isn’t perfect yet, but scientists are analyzing the samples they have already collected alongside previously known outbreaks.

They are also studying and sharing information from other similar studies being conducted in and outside of the U.S.

“Moving forward, when we see a spike, we can actually alert the university and let them know and we are usually four to five, to seven days ahead of when people either get symptoms and or get tested and get their test results back,” Stevenson said.

Soon the team will have extra equipment that can remain at each location day and night.

“As soon as we get that we’ll have it on telemetry so we can watch it from afar and we’ll collect samples around the clock at that point,” Vogel said.

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