GVSU researchers partner with health departments to test for COVID-19 in wastewater

Posted at 11:04 AM, Jul 29, 2021

ALLENDALE, Mich. — The Annis Water Resources Institute and the Cell and Molecular Biology Department at Grand Valley State University are working with area health departments for the next two years to test and detect genetic markers of COVID-19 in wastewater.

GVSU announced the partnership in a news release Thursday.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services awarded the Kent County Health Department a $3.3 million grant for wastewater testing, and the Ottawa County Department of Public Health a $1.7 million grant for wastewater testing in Ottawa and Muskegon counties.

Pei-Lan Tsou, associate professor of cell and molecular biology, and Sheila Blackman, professor of biology and cell and molecular biology, are the primary investigators for processing results for Kent County.

“This relationship with the Kent County Health Department provides a great opportunity for our students to experience the practical use of the techniques they learn in our program,” Blackman said. “This molecular monitoring of environmental samples, like wastewater, is an increasingly powerful tool for disease surveillance and we, and our students, are excited to be providing this service to the health department.”

Wastewater testing can also provide early-level detections before clinical onset of symptoms.

“It gives us potentially up to one week prior to a potential outbreak or increase in cases because we can actually see the biomarkers in the wastewater,” said Andrew Salisbury, supervising sanitarian at the Kent County Health Department.

The Annis Water Resources Institute in Muskegon is working with the Ottawa County Department of Public Health to test wastewater in Muskegon and Ottawa counties.

Samples from wastewater facilities in both counties will be collected and then analyzed twice per week.

In the fall, a series of samples will be taken from Grand Valley State University’s Allendale campus and Muskegon Community College.

“We’re going to be testing for the general coronavirus and also for different variants,” said Rick Rediske, professor of water resources and principal investigator at the Annis Water Resources Institute. “We can broadly screen populations, cities and communities with wastewater much easier and faster than we can set up testing facilities with nasal swabs. It’s a less invasive and rapid test to look at populations to see if there’s a problem.”