Wastewater research conducted to find possible COVID-19 spikes in dorms

Bella Hagey Reporter

In an effort to detect possible dorms where spikes in the number of COVID-19 cases may occur, Kent State has started a wastewater research program.

The research, done by associate professor Xiaozhen Mou, Ph.D., and her team, can detect a peak in the wastewater coming from different dorms around campus. This can ultimately predict where expected rises in cases may occur.

“We’re having three on-campus dorms and then two off-campus sites,” Mou said. “So, we’re trying to monitor the wastewater and to see how much COVID-19 viruses particles we can quantify from the wastewater.”

Before students moved back on to campus after winter break, Mou and her team collected baseline samples from wastewater in December. The real data collection begins on Jan. 25, Mou said.

“Starting from that week, we will have some data and we share that with the COVID task force of the university,” Mou said.

COVID-19 testing at Kent State has increased this semester with students living on campus.

“Students in the residence halls will also be tested once a week [for COVID-19] throughout the semester,” Manfred van Dulmen, the interim associate provost for academic affairs, said during a Kent State COVID media update conducted on Jan. 13, 2021 over Zoom.

However, with the data collected by Mou and her research team, the university may have a better idea of which students need more testing, Mou said.

“If we see a peak in one dorm, instead of [testing] every two weeks, we might recommend to do it to one test immediately,” Mou said. “We can have more directed mitigation methods to protect our students from infection.”

The wastewater is also useful because it can detect COVID-19 before someone starts showing symptoms.

“It has predictive power because it is collecting asymptomatic and symptomatic patients samples,” Mou said.

Other Ohio universities are also participating in this type of wastewater data collection. These include Akron University, the University of Toledo and Bowling Green State University, Mou said.

This type of data collection is not new, Mou said.

“It has been used … to monitor other infectious diseases,” Mou said. “As a matter of fact, the CDC just called for a study because the pandemic season overlaps with the flu season.”

While the wastewater research may better predict COVID-19 cases, Mou still hopes students will get tested even if they are not living on campus.

“Testing and monitoring where it goes is a very important first step,” Mou said. “But if everybody’s collaborating in this we will see a better future quickly.”

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