Pumps, sewers, and science are all part of a program aimed at extracting information about COVID-19.
“We’re trying to learn the level of COVID on our campus through our septic tanks and that gives us the jump to the tests we need to do,” said Jeff Abernathy, president of Alma College.
Alma College is installing eight pumping systems across campus. Science shows that COVID-19 particles are present in human waste before most physical symptoms appear.
This test system could detect COVID-19 in a dorm or facility long before anyone shows symptoms.
“These pumps take a sample from our wastewater every 15 minutes over a period of 24 hours. We then test the 24 hour period that we have COVID cases, ”Abernathy said.
The tests can trace the virus back to the buildings and roughly how many people have it.
“Then test them out individually in this dormitory. That would mean we don’t have to test all of them on campus at this point, ”Abernathy said.
Scott Dean, who works with the Department of the Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, said Alma is just one of many colleges involved in this multimillion-dollar program that is covered by federal COVID aid.
“So it might help you learn that you might have a student who is asymptomatic in a dormitory,” said Dean. “Or, based on the volume, you have a large number of people; It could be a really good early warning tool and possibly a game changer to help slow down the spread of the virus. “
About 20 test facilities collect data. If it’s a success, it could have a huge impact.
“The public sewer system covers about 70 percent of the population,” said Dean. “That would really give us a great window into the presence of COVID-19 in a large number of our communities.”