Berry to begin testing residence hall sewage waste

Mary Grace von Thron, Campus Carrier deputy news editor

Berry will soon be testing for COVID-19 by examining the levels of COVID-19 in sewage wastewater.

When an individual is infected with COVID-19, the virus’ RNA is shed in a person’s fecal matter according to Peter Capponi, North American industrial and manufacturing sector leader at GHD, a sustainable energy company dedicated improving the physical, natural and social environments within the communities it serves. 

To detect if sewage wastewater has traces of COVID-19, sanitation crews will pull sample containers of wastewater. The samples are then analyzed to determine whether there is a presence of COVID-19 in the waste.

“Monitoring wastewater is a great way to be able to detect whether or not there’s populations that are feeding the wastewater that are impacted with the virus even if they are asymptomatic” Capponi said. 

With this monitoring, it will be easier to identify where students on campus have tested positive, according to Capponi. For example, if sewage levels are tested episodically, it can determine whether broader testing within a residence hall is needed or not.

“So rather than try to test everybody, it does give some promise to us for being able to say, well, you know, we’ve got an issue in East Dana, so we only test East Dana,” chief of staff Debbie Heida said. 

According to a peer-reviewed article from the journal Nature Biotechnology published this past month, the concept of testing sewage levels is not a novel idea. Wide application of wastewater surveillance began in the 1990s with efforts to eradicate polio virus. 

Since the reopening of schools across the countries, especially colleges, many medical companies have been advertising and offering their testing methods to schools.

“It’s a booming time for any new science company or methodology to be bombarding college administers with the phrase ‘have we got a test for you,’’ Heida said. “A day doesn’t go by where I don’t get a notification from another company that has a new testing option for us.”

When looking into alternative ways of testing, Heida said the administration focused on finding a different way to test students, rather than the Vault Health testing that all students completed before returning back to Berry. 

“The Vault testing was an expensive venture on our part, but we felt like it was an investment that we needed to make to make sure we could reopen safely,” Heida said.

Berry is not alone in this endeavor. Several universities, such as the State University of New York at Oneoata, have started testing sewage wastewater to detect COVID-19.

“Lots of schools have been leading the efforts because there’s been a lot more institutions and higher-ed colleges and universities that have had increasing numbers of COVID-19,” Capponi said.

There have been several other alternative ways to test for COVID-19 apart from the traditional nasal swab test.

“There’s testing that can be done of the air, there’s testing that can be done of ventilation systems, there’s testing that can be done after surfaces are disinfected and cleaned to evaluate the level of cleanliness,” Capponi said. 

There is also testing being developed that will be able to identify COVID-19 in masks.

For an in-depth understanding of how fecal matter can determine COVID-19, students can go to to learn more.

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