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Dorm wastewater helps University of Arizona prevent COVID-19 spread

(Facebook Photo/University of Arizona)

PHOENIX — The University of Arizona was able to prevent the coronavirus from spreading at one of its student dorms last week thanks to a system it developed to test wastewater.

When a sample of the wastewater from the Likins Hall came back showing the presence of COVID-19 on Tuesday, researchers from the university’s Water and Energy Sustainable Technology Center tested five more samples.

“All five of them were positive, so we knew we were on to something,” Robert Robbins, UA president, said during a press conference Thursday.

A team went over to the dorm and tested the more than 300 students who live there and the staff. Two tests came back positive for COVID-19. The individuals, who were asymptomatic, were put in isolation and contact tracing was conducted.

“We think this is going to be a very valuable tool to help us get out in front,” Robbins said.

Dr. Richard Carmona, who leads the university’s reentry task force, said had it not been for their wastewater testing system, the situation could’ve been a lot worse.

“With this early detection, we jumped on it right away, tested those youngsters and got them the appropriate isolation where they needed to be,” Carmona said.

“Think about if we had missed it, if we waited until they became symptomatic and they stayed in that dorm for days or a week, or the whole incubation period,” he added. “How many other people would have been infected?”

Wastewater testing is also being done at other facilities on campus, including all student dorms, student unions and administrative buildings.

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