Speed Reads

Solving COVID

University of Arizona scientists say they prevented campus coronavirus outbreak through wastewater testing

Researchers at the University of Arizona are working to curb coronavirus outbreaks at the school by conducting regular tests of sewage from 20 buildings across campus, and it seems to be working.

The university said it stopped a potential outbreak before it started after it analyzed wastewater from a dorm for traces of the virus. Subsequently, two students — both of whom were asymptomatic — were found to be infected. While Arizona is utilizing other mitigation tactics like swab testing and contact tracing, wastewater testing comes in handy because its reportedly sensitive enough to detect the virus up to a week before an individual develops symptoms, which means there's a better chance of locating a case before the person can spread the virus widely. "So, you have seven precious days in which you can undergo intervention," said Ian Pepper, an environmental microbiologist who is leading the effort.

Wastewater epidemiology makes a lot of sense for campus housing, but it's not limited to that kind of living situation. Pepper told NBC News it can be done at the neighborhood and community level, as well, and indeed it's catching on — University of Arizona scientists have been analyzing samples from wastewater treatment plants across the country, researchers launched a countrywide program in the United Kingdom, and scientists in Israel have hailed it as an effective, non-invasive tracking method. Read more at NBC News.