Clarkson University tests wastewater for COVID-19

WWNY Clarkson University tests wastewater for COVID-19

POTSDAM, N.Y. (WWNY) - They’re stooping low as they can go to fight COVID-19 at Clarkson University. It can be a messy business, but it could help.

The toilet is where a different kind of test for COVID-19 begins. It’s in use at Clarkson University.

Wastewater test samples are collected at manhole covers all over campus.

“Oh, yeah - poop, corn, peanuts, toilet paper, the whole, you know, everything that goes down there. We got it,” said

Shane Rogers, Clarkson University associate professor.

It’s called wastewater surveillance. Pumps draw it out. It’s brought back to the lab. And the search for the virus begins.

“I really like the field work kind of aspect of it. I like getting my hands kind of dirty. A funny way to put it, but, yeah,” said Tia Stoddard, Clarkson University senior.

COVID-19 testing tells what’s happening with individuals. Wastewater surveillance can give the “big picture” as to what’s happening on campus.

“It provides us one extra barrier, one extra level of protection in this system we’ve built around this,” said Rogers.

It can spot emerging outbreaks sooner. That’s because the virus hits sewers even before people have symptoms – or even when they have no symptoms. And it can even help reassure roommates nervous about the pandemic.

“I’ll let them know, 'Hey, we’re doing this. We have protocols. We’re testing. So it’s kind of like something to feel a bit better about the whole situation because it can be overwhelming,” said Stoddard.

So far there have been only three confirmed COVID-19 cases on campus. The wastewater surveillance just started but it spotted residual virus from previous cases.

Wastewater surveillance undertaken by Clarkson isn’t just benefitting students there, it has also been installed in other places around the county.

Sampling stations are up and running at wastewater treatment plants in Potsdam and Canton. Clarkson has also helped SUNY Canton and St. Lawrence University implement the monitoring.

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