NORTHFIELD, Vt. — Norwich University has developed a team and process for testing wastewater on campus for early detection of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19

Wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) uses wastewater to study community health. The group will use on-campus manholes to collect and analyze sewage samples for COVID-19. The samples will be collected by students using a mix of commercial and in-house designed and built equipment. The laboratory analysis involves filtering the virus from the sewage sample, extracting the virus’s RNA and determining a match with the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).

Sewage is an early indicator because as many as 80% of infected but asymptomatic people shed the virus in their feces four to six days before a positive result from clinical tests. So, if a sample results in a positive analysis, it offers us an opportunity to quarantine a particular barracks or dorm and focus the nasal swab testing on that limited population.

“We are interested in doing whatever we can to help contain the spread of the virus on our campus and therefore in our larger Vermont community.”Dr. Tara Kulkarni, director, Center for Global Resilience and Security

“We are interested in doing whatever we can to help contain the spread of the virus on our campus and therefore in our larger Vermont community,” Center for Global Resilience and Security Director and Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Tara Kulkarni said. “This is truly an interdisciplinary and collaborative effort involving students, faculty and other institutions and resources.”

This initiative has five components:

Technical: This involves determining the locations on campus that should be tested and developing a comprehensive sampling plan, designing the sample collection equipment, including building and installing an automatic sampler for sample collection. This work is spearheaded by senior year construction management and civil engineering students, working on their capstone project led by Kulkarni.

Scientific: This involves analytical support provided by faculty and students in chemistry and biochemistry who are primarily working on analyzing the samples, led by Chemistry Lab Coordinator and Lecturer Marie Agan.

Humanities: This involves investigating the awareness and perceptions of the WBE work on campus and developing a podcast series. A team of communications students led by Lecturer Stephen Pite hope to be the bridge that connect the technical and scientific team with the rest of the campus and external community.

Interdisciplinary: This involves an open invitation to all Norwich faculty and students interested in tagging in. For example, a member of the mathematics faculty is interested in using Broadcast Domination Theory and applying it to our collection methods, to help identify, mathematically, the best sampling locations to choose from.

Statewide research collaborative: This involves ongoing conversations with the University of Vermont, St. Michael’s College, United States Geological Survey (USGS) and state agencies to seek collaborative funding to research broader impacts of using wastewater as a tool in epidemiological analyses for community health.

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About Norwich University

Norwich University is a diversified academic institution that educates traditional-age students and adults in a Corps of Cadets and as civilians. Norwich offers a broad selection of traditional and distance-learning programs culminating in baccalaureate and graduate degrees. Norwich University was founded in 1819 by U.S. Army Capt. Alden Partridge and is the oldest private military college in the United States. Norwich is one of our nation's six senior military colleges and the birthplace of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). www.norwich.ed

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