Wastewater Testing

To: W&L Faculty, Staff and Students
From: The COVID-19 Committee
Date: Friday, September 11

As you may recall from our recently communicated overview of the university's ongoing testing program, in addition to diagnostic/symptomatic, asymptomatic contact, and surveillance testing, W&L is testing wastewater from various residential locations on campus on a weekly basis. This testing serves as a sentinel early indicator for presence of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) by location. Results of wastewater tests are helping to guide the university's ongoing testing by allowing us to determine targeted areas for additional asymptomatic surveillance testing.

Wastewater-based testing complements clinical testing, particularly in populations that may consist of predominantly asymptomatic individuals, such as residential college students, by potentially providing early detection of SARS-CoV-2. It's important to note, however, that while detection of SARS-CoV-2 in a sample provides important information, it does not necessarily indicate the presence of COVID-19 in your area. For example, it's possible for wastewater testing to pick up trace amounts of the virus in samples from individuals who previously had, and have recovered from, COVID-19.

To date, we have received three positive wastewater test results. First, on Aug. 28, a sample from Graham-Lees Residence Hall returned a positive result. This led to two rounds of clinical testing of samples of the Graham-Lees population, all of which were negative for COVID-19. We concluded the Graham-Lees positive wastewater result was due to individuals who previously had, and recovered from, COVID-19. Yesterday we received positive wastewater test results from one section of Gaines Residence Hall, and from the Village.

Because of these recent results, we will be testing a significant percentage of the population of those residential areas on Monday and Tuesday of next week. Those selected for testing have already received an email with instructions for scheduling a testing time.

If a positive wastewater test result has been identified in your residential area, continued vigilance in following guidance around face coverings, physical distancing, hygiene, and limiting of close contacts continues to be the best approach to minimizing the potential spread of the virus.

As a reminder, you can access current testing data on W&L's COVID-19 Testing Dashboard. For questions, email COVID19@wlu.edu.