What are the advantages of using several COVID-19 testing strategies for student safety?

two people check a wastewater monitoring station on a field at the University of Colorado Boulder campus
During the 2020–2021 school year, some U.S. universities tested wastewater from dormitories to surveil for COVID-19 outbreaks. Samples can be collected from wastewater monitoring stations, like this one on the University of Colorado Boulder’s campus.GLENN ASAKAWA/CU BOULDER

A few years ago, Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction increased its biosecurity practices, choosing to monitor wastewater that may be carrying viruses instead of just swabbing the students’ nostrils.

People that are infected excrete the virus in their feces. Stool that’s flushed moves through intertwining pipes to flow into a large slurry that may be tested. By screening wastewater with PCR in various parts of the system, thousands of individuals may be tested in one day. Last year, Colorado Mesa University detected COVID-19 outbreaks by sampling individual dormitory wastewater, and were able to catch them early, before many people had to be quarantined. Surveillance tests may provide data on transmission in a neighborhood and can help decide whether to ramp up or cut down on other prevention efforts.

“For your family home, everyone’s shitting in the same sewer,” adds Ciaranello. But kids spend so little time in schools, she adds, that it doesn’t happen every day.

Air filters may also be susceptible to the coronavirus. The increasing use of air filters in schools has led to the development of a type of surveillance testing by UC Davis microbiologist David Coil.

“With the use of a viral RNA test, we can discover whether there is a virus in the classroom,” he concludes. In order to cover numerous children in a single sample without needing permission papers and swabs from youngsters, our consultant explains that this system is similar to the testing of pooled samples. Of course, if there are any dangerous conditions in the classroom, kids will need to be separated. But pupils may also be monitored using air filter surveillance in order to see whether or not the air is contaminated without having to separate them and risk causing panic.

More interesting testing options like this may be required this autumn, as a COVID-19 Using the $10 billion allocated to K-12 schools via the American Rescue Plan, Bilinski, the infectious disease modeler at Brown University, argues that we have the chance to bring successful methods to scale. Now that we have both money and the technology to help with exposures, the outbreaks won’t be as painful and disruptive as they will be later. We ought to use it.

Categories: Clinical