ECU implements new COVID-19 wastewater detection devices

Greenville

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — East Carolina University is going in a new direction to spot the coronavirus on campus. Administrators believe the water being flushed and going down drains can show how the virus is spreading.

The testing comes as ECU leaders say wastewater samples will potentially help them spot coronavirus faster than some other efforts. They say it’s all about keeping students safe.

“We found that you can actually detect the COVID genetic material three to seven days prior to someone showing symptoms,” said Griffin Avin the Director of Facilities Services for Health Sciences.

ECU administrators and researchers will be looking for COVID’s genetic signs in wastewater from residence halls. They believe testing what comes down the drain will give them a head start in preventing COVID before anyone starts feeling the effects of the virus.

“We are currently collecting samples every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, in the mornings. We collect the samples and then we ice them down,” said Avin.

Getting the wastewater means opening up manholes and accessing a device that collects water samples. Those samples then get into the scientists’ hand.

“Then we take them to Dr. (Guy) Iverson’s lab over at Belk where they actually prepare the samples and then from there, they go over to the Brody School of Medicine, where Dr. (John) Fallon actually runs for detection of the genetic material,” said Avin.

If the researchers find signs of COVID in the water, they then know where to focus their testing efforts and precautionary measures.

“What it can really do is help guide those efforts right. We have resources to test that population, but who do we test? We don’t necessarily know. Certainly, the people who have symptoms,” said Iverson, the Assistant Professor of Environmental Health.

Officials hope this technology can prevent COVID clusters that happened in residence halls in September, bringing a quick end to in-person classes and dorm life.

“The university has kind of established levels based on those findings so then you can determine what your reaction plan is going to be. Based on this level we are going to test 20% of the students or dependent on this level we will test 100%,” said Avin.

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