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University Stops Virus Outbreak 'in Its Tracks'

University of Arizona's testing of wastewater samples leads to 2 asymptomatic students
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 28, 2020 7:40 AM CDT
Updated Aug 30, 2020 10:40 AM CDT

(Newser) – Everyone in the dorm seemed just fine. But by using a creative testing method, researchers at the University of Arizona were able to quickly determine two students in the college residence had COVID-19, fending off a larger outbreak throughout the dorm and the entire school. The Arizona Republic reports that university scientists have been analyzing wastewater samples taken from 20 buildings on the UA campus since school started to see if they could find any evidence of the virus. They got a hit: Samples taken from Likins Hall showed elevated viral loads. Researchers tested the samples five more times to make sure, then the school tested all of the dorm's 300-plus residents. Positive results came back for two students, both of whom had shown no symptoms.

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"We in fact found cases that no one would have known about, and now we're contact tracing all of their contacts to find out how many other students may be positive and asymptomatic," university President Robert Robbins says, per Arizona Public Media. The two infected students were immediately isolated. As of Thursday morning, there were five students in total in the school's quarantine dorm, while 42 other students have gone home to isolate after coming up positive in on-campus testing. BGR notes that testing wastewater should be looked at nationwide as an effective way to detect the virus early, especially when dealing with asymptomatic carriers. "A dorm outbreak, detected, isolated, stopped in its tracks," author Charles Fishman tweeted. "This is how you do it." (Read more University of Arizona stories.)

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