By Jonathan Kopeliovich
On October 13, COVID-19 sampling testers saw an increase in COVID-19 bacteria in the wastewater at the University of Connecticut’s Student Union. Alarmed by this uptick, UConn Student Health and Wellness sent an email advising students to get clinically tested if they had used the bathroom in the building that Tuesday.
Dr. Kendra Maas, the head of the Microbial Analysis, Resources, and Services Department at UConn, is happy to report the results of those clinical tests.
“All of the students who took [SHaW] up on that…all of them were negative,” she said.
Usually, small traces of COVID-19 bacteria can be found through wastewater sampling.
“People continue shedding COVID in their feces after they’re no longer infectious,” Maas said. Still, the Student Union samples had enough coronavirus bacteria to raise eyebrows.
Abby Johnson, a fifth-semester allied health sciences major living off campus, received the notification in her health portal advising students who were at the Student Union and using the bathroom to get tested. Luckily she wasn’t there, but she said she still believes that SHaW’s actions are beneficial to everybody.
“Testing the water could figure out some asymptomatic cases…and figure out that population that doesn’t even know that they’re sick, but probably should be quarantining,” she said.
Wastewater testing has been in place since the start of the semester and has assisted SHaW in identifying targets for surveillance testing. Unlike saliva and pooled testing, wastewater testing’s range is extremely broad because it’s a collective sample of student waste.
These tests are just the beginning. The Student Union incident has allowed SHaW to test a recently implemented strategy. Maas said that starting on Tuesday, October 20 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., the lab started offering gargle tests to any student at the Hugh S. Greer Field House.
“We’re using this as our first test of non-residential student pooled testing,” she said.
Johnson expressed interest in this new form of testing. She said that she wasn’t sure where in the past she could get tested this easily, and this new strategy provides a new opportunity for students like her.
As UConn experiments and develops its COVID-19 protocols, the infection rate at UConn proves to be an outlier among colleges, remaining below 1 percent in the last couple of weeks. These bits of news bring hope for returning to a normal time.
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