University of Arizona used wastewater testing to stop a possible coronavirus outbreak in one of its dorms


Dr. Robbins said those individuals are now in isolation, and they are conducting contact tracing. He said wastewater collected from the other dorms showed no traces of COVID-19.

There’s an entertaining thread about this on Twitter, which is where I heard about it. This goes into a bit more detail:

It seems like the key to making this work is first that the scale has to be fairly small. It seems like a smart way to deal with possible outbreaks on college campuses where you can isolate individual dorms. Would it work at a high school? You could test the wastewater coming from the entire school but if it’s a school of 3,000 that really doesn’t narrow things down very much.

And it obviously wouldn’t help much to test the water at a waste treatement plant in a city of 100,000 because that doesn’t tell you anything about who has it. You’d really need to do this building by building or at least block by block to make it worthwhile. I can’t imagine how many people you’d need to try this in Los Angeles or San Francisco.

On the plus side, this is actually preventative. It’s certainly not glamorous but if it works maybe that would be enough to make it politically palatable.

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