COVID on Campus

Testing Wastewater for COVID-19

Maddie Kasper

More stories from Maddie Kasper


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The news column “COVID on campus” posts relevant COVID-19 news every week for UWEC students.

UW-Eau Claire is collecting wastewater on campus to be tested for COVID-19.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wastewater is water that contains human fecal matter. When individuals have COVID-19, they shed SARS-CoV-2 genetic material in their feces. 

The CDC suggests that institutions of higher education with on-campus housing should be testing wastewater.

Crispin Pierce, professor of public health and environmental studies, has led a group of students in collecting wastewater for the past nine months. Pierce is in charge of wastewater collection for the university’s COVID-19 response team.

“Sampling wastewater for traces of communicable disease is a promising tool for containing spread.” Pierce said. 

According to the CDC, samples of wastewater are to be collected when it flows into a treatment plant.

Pierce said he and his students have collected wastewater samples from North Towers, South Towers and Aspenson-Mogenson residence halls and the Children’s Nature Academy in Priory Hall.

According to Pierce, after collection, samples are sent into public health laboratories to be tested for SARS-CoV-2. According to the CDC, health departments send testing data to the CDC’s National Wastewater Surveillance System.

According to the CDC, individuals who are asymptomatic or do not realize they are positive for COVID-19 shed SARS-CoV-2 genetic material and wastewater surveillance can be used to alert communities of the virus spread.

Pierce said he hoped that they would be able to predict COVID-19 trends on campus, but that is not what their results found.

“Our wastewater results tended to confirm rather than predict student testing results for the presence of the virus.” Pierce said.

Pierce said he and his students did not find a strong correlation between cases and wastewater levels on campus.

“I believe that because we have seen so few cases on campus due to vaccinations, masking, and quarantining, finding a correlation may be difficult,” Pierce said.

Pierce’s students will be presenting their data analysis at Posters at the Rotunda on March 9 in the Wisconsin State Capitol building and the Celebration of Research and Creative Activity in April.

As of Feb. 15, the UW-Eau Claire COVID-19 dashboard has reported 61 on-campus student and 71 off-campus student tests were done this week, with zero coming back positive. 

Also according to the dashboard, 19 tests were performed on faculty and staff this week with no positive test results.

The dashboard’s vaccination statistics have not been updated since Jan. 3 and remains at 83.5% of students having uploaded a vaccine card.

More information about COVID-19 can be found on the CDC’s website.

Kasper can be reached at [email protected]