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Expanded Wastewater Testing Program Offers Early Detection Of COVID-19

Article_Expanded Water Testing Program

Environment, Health & Safety (EH&S) recently played a key role in the deployment of a SARS-CoV-2 wastewater surveillance program to help identify on-campus student housing locations where the COVID-19 virus is present, and allow for notifications to be sent to those affected.

Trace amounts of viruses such as SARS-CoV-2 are commonly shed in fecal matter that ends up in a community’s wastewater system when people use the bathroom. Traces of SARS-CoV-2 can show up in an infected person’s feces days before any symptoms are detected, and even when a person ultimately shows no symptoms at all. This makes wastewater testing a particularly efficient early-warning strategy for the detection of COVID-19.

UCLA is one of many university campuses across the country that are testing wastewater in their efforts to contain COVID-19. These include UC San Diego, MIT, the University of Arizona, the University of Virginia and Colorado College, to name a few.

The effort was a collaboration between the campus’s exposure management team, civil and environmental engineering department, Center for Neurobehavioral Genetics, Facilities Management plumbing team, Transportation department, and Housing & Hospitality unit, with EH&S coordinating all needed supplies, support and administrative functions. 

During the time when fewer students were on campus due to the pandemic, the program initially focused on the De Neve and Sunset Village housing units in 2020, however, the move to allow triple occupancy housing for fall 2021 necessitated the expansion of the program.

As a designated Center of Excellence through a National Institutes of Health grant, UCLA expanded the program from analyzing samples from eight campus locations to all 30 on-campus housing locations and offer same-day results. The newly opened Olympic and Centennial residence halls, as well as UCLA’s off-campus undergraduate housing sites are expected to undergo similar monitoring in the future. In addition, in service to the community at large, UCLA is collaborating with Pangolin Health to expand wastewater-based testing to K-12 schools in Los Angeles.