Hope College faculty members develop method to test student waste water for COVID

All students, faculty and staff were required to be tested for the virus before returning to campus for the semester
Posted at 5:14 PM, Aug 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-20 17:27:25-04

HOLLAND, Mich. — Several faculty members at Hope College have developed a method for testing the waste water coming out of residence halls for the presence of COVID-19.

In-person classes resumed this week at the Holland college, where all staff and students were required to be tested for the virus before returning to campus.

“If you think about Hope, or any college, it's basically a small city and you need to be able to monitor as many of those people as possible,” Said Aaron Best, Ph.D., a Visscher Professor of Genetics at Hope College.

The college is taking a multi-faceted approach to testing, which included everyone being required to have been tested and received a negative result prior to coming back.

If a student begins to show symptoms associated with the virus after they have returned to campus, they are required to be tested again.

“One of the interesting things about this virus is it appears that a fair amount of the pope infected may not show any symptoms, so they are asymptomatic," Dr. Best told FOX 17 Thursday.

“But they still shed the virus and they can still infect other people.”

Monitoring and testing the wastewater that comes out of living quarters on campus can help fill in the cracks for a population of students who may be less likely to outwardly show symptoms, and therefore less likely to get tested on their own accord.

“So we’ve broken the campus down into 10 zones and each of the zones represents about 200 to 250 students, wherever they're living. So that might be 2 or 3 dorms put together, or dorms and apartments and cottages the college owns,” Dr Best said.

It's a strategy that has taken a lot of effort to developed and implemented. About 5 professors at Hope are working on the project, and several more employees have been hired in the last few weeks to help facilitate collecting of samples.

The approach allows the college a valuable vantage point in fighting the spread of COVID-19. Dr Best saying, "it's very possible that the wastewater signal that you have is ahead of a hospital seeing cases. And so there might be a lead time. So it could, in fact, not just be a surveillance of the current burden, but also a predictor of when you might see, burdens at hospitals in a clinical setting.”

So while this team is focusing on the population here in Holland, it is possible for this approach to be used in a more large-scale setting, to potentially monitor an entire city's waste water.

“There are logistical issues with scaling, of course," Dr Best said.

"But there are many groups around the nation and really around the world right now that are trying to ramp up this kind of testing to do exactly that.”

The CDC announced just this week that they would begin gathering data from waste water across the United States to build a better picture of how the virus continues to spread across the country.

You can check the Hope College website for more information on their testing plan.