ALBION, Mich. — Albion College has been looking in the residence halls sewer pipes for COVID-19 and the college's president said the new testing method was helping the college keep its students safe.
Albion College began planning for COVID-19 late spring 2020. The three-part plan consisted of education, environmental and population health management components. The latter involves monitoring risk. including individual COVID-19 testing, and the testing of wastewater.
"So we can test the wastewater from, let’s say the first-year dorm, which is 450 students, and see if there is a positive person using the restrooms in that residence hall. If there is, then we can come back in with the individualized testing and identify who the individual is to prevent spread," Albion College President Mathew Johnson said. "So it gives us a way to test lots of people all at the same time, and focus our individualized testing on the places where there is most risk.”
Johnson said the college has identified one positive case of COVID-19 through wastewater testing and that person has since been cleared to resume campus activities.
He said he and the staff knew COVID-19 would end up on campus, but they wanted to develop a rapid response system to clearly identify infection, and move in quickly to isolate and prevent community spread.
The college has installed sampling devices on the wastewater exit pipes of some of the largest residential hall areas on campus. The devices collects samples in a 24-hour period.
“Within a 24-hour time period, the people who live in that area are probably going to have used the residence facility for the bathroom," Johnson said.
The samples are sent to a lab facility where they're tested for any elevation of the virus found in the wastewater.
Five weeks into the academic year, Albion College has had nine positive cases, and Johnson said, no community spread.
“We’ve had six clear tests of wastewater around campus. That means that about two-thirds of our student body is cleared through the wastewater system. Because not every single residence area is tested, but about two-thirds of our body is tested in that way," Johnson said.
Johnson said Albion College has done well on limiting the spread of COVID-19, that it's considering scaling back some of the restrictions. He said he's aware of other colleges and universities testing wastewater, including Hope College, which bought two of Albion College's testing devices.
Eastern Michigan University has also been testing wastewater for COVID-19.