WSU testing wastewater for COVID on campus


FAIRBORN — Wright State University is participating in a state-funded wastewater sampling program to detect the presence of COVID-19 on the Dayton and Lake campuses.

Sampling wastewater can help the university to catch the coronavirus early and prevent an outbreak of COVID-19 in the Wright State community. The sampling effort is focused on residential halls on both campuses.

Numerous colleges around the United States are testing wastewater to detect the coronavirus on their campuses. For instance, wastewater sampling helped the University of Arizona prevent an outbreak in one dorm last fall when follow-up testing found two asymptomatic students.

People who have been infected with SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, shed virus particles through their feces when they use the restroom. Wastewater monitoring can detect traces of SARS-CoV-2 in sewage up to a week before physical symptoms occur, and can even detect infections in asymptomatic individuals.

Wastewater testing cannot inform the university who is infected, but a positive test would indicate that at least one campus resident is ill and allows the university to respond.

If a positive sample is found, the Department of Environmental Health and Safety, Wright State Physicians, and staff from Residence Life and Housing and Lake Campus Housing would coordinate a response that would include targeted COVID-19 testing.

The Wright State testing program is a collaborative effort between the lab of Abimbola Ola Kolawole, a research assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, the Department of Environmental Health and Safety, and Facilities Operations.

Wright State received $120,000 in grant funding from the Ohio Department of Health to support the effort. Wright State is one of about 15 Ohio colleges and universities participating in a state-supported testing program. Funding is used to cover the cost of wastewater sampling equipment and testing. The grant also supports the involvement of two undergraduate biological sciences majors and a technician who assist Kolawole.

Wright State is collecting wastewater from Hamilton Hall, Honors Residence, The Village and Forest Lane on the Dayton Campus and from the residential apartments on the Lake Campus.

“We are doing this as a way of guarding against outbreaks,” Kolawole said.

Samples are collected from sewer lines outside the residence halls and tested twice a week in Kolawole’s lab in Diggs Laboratory.

Kolawole and his students were trained to properly collect and test the samples. They also are careful to follow safety guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Wright State.

The program offers the students a chance to learn about the coronavirus while gaining experience working in a laboratory. “They are very excited to go out and collect samples themselves,” Kolawole said.

The grant funding Wright State received from the state will cover six months of testing, though the university can monitor campus wastewater for a longer time period since it was able to purchase the necessary sampling equipment.

Last fall, the state of Ohio also launched an initiative to test public sewer systems throughout Ohio. That initiative involves the Ohio Department of Health, the Ohio EPA and the Ohio Water Resources Center.