Norwich Wastewater-Based Epidemiology (WBE) COVID-19 Testing & Findings
The situation on the Norwich University campus remains unchanged from previous communications: We have three current positive cases in our university community, and zero positive cases on campus. We have continued to provide a large number of surveillance tests as advertised and promised.
The Norwich Wastewater Based Epidemiology (WBE) initiative launched in September 2020 with the goal of keeping our campus and surrounding communities safe. Wastewater testing administered on November 19th to samples taken from Goodyear Hall and Gerard Hall indicated traces of COVID-19. The samples were taken on November 11th and 18th. These wastewater results do not mean we have current cases or that we have an increased level of risk. The wastewater tests simply allow us to target certain populations for increased testing, which we have done.
In an abundance of caution and to continue to operate in full transparency, details below provide information on the testing program, mitigations we are instituting at Norwich, suggestions for the local community, and recommendations for students who reside in these barracks who have already departed, or plan to depart campus soon for fall and winter break.
Earlier this fall, Norwich University joined with multiple colleges across the United States to investigate the use of wastewater for early detection of COVID-19. Results from wastewater testing for COVID-19 may be helpful to community leaders in identifying infection clusters, so they can respond with more directed public health measures, including targeted testing. We have been procuring equipment all fall semester and developing testing protocols that will be fully implemented in January 2021. Results from November 19th were achieved using the equipment and facilities we are still building; we are being aggressive in sharing the results because of our commitment to the health and safety of our campus and the local community.
On September 30th, the first sewage sample under this initiative was collected from the Northfield Wastewater Treatment Plant (NWTP) and sent to two commercial laboratories for analysis. The results were negative and helped to establish a baseline. Additional samples were collected from the NWTP on November 4th, 11th and 18th. These samples were analyzed on November 19th. Results were positive on samples from November 11th and 18th, not surprising given the documented presence of COVID-19 in the local community.
Samples were collected from three campus locations on November 5th and November 14th. These samples were analyzed yesterday, November 19th, using the Norwich WBE laboratory. The Goodyear Hall and Gerard Hall samples yielded positive results. Late yesterday, November 19th, quarantine requirements for students in Goodyear Hall and Gerard Hall were increased from campus quarantine to dorm quarantine. All Norwich students residing in these two barracks were informed of the specific quarantining and testing protocols, which included:
1. Students should stay in their rooms, wear face coverings, and follow hand hygiene protocols.
2. Several hundred students from these two barracks completed targeted testing for COVID-19 at Plumley Armory today, Friday, November 20th.
3. If any student currently on campus has a positive test result, the student will be provided isolation and support services on campus for 10 days or until medically cleared.
All students with a positive test result must remain on campus and complete the isolation and medical protocols. Failure to comply with the testing and protocol requirements will be considered a violation of the Maroon and Gold Behavior Contract and may result in disciplinary or administrative action.
The final testing event for students and employees will be held on Monday, November 23rd, 8:30a.m. until 4 p.m. at Plumley Armory.
All students traveling are urged to review and adhere to the recommendations of the CDC https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/holidays/thanksgiving.html. Guidelines include the encouragement to quarantine at home or their destination for 14 days, or for 7 days with a negative test after 7 days.
Today, Northfield town officials were also informed of the positive results from the NWTP samples. Norwich University COVID-19 task force recommends that all community members continue following CDC and state health guidelines. To learn more, please refer to the resources and guidelines available through the Vermont Department of Health at https://www.healthvermont.gov/covid-19.
Currently, wastewater testing results are unable to tell us how many people are infected or when the infection may have started. The Norwich WBE team will continue to test across campus and expand further into the Northfield and surrounding areas in coordination with our community partners.
Our return to campus planning for the spring semester continues. Our plan is to have students beginning to return on January 15th and we will continue with a vigorous health and safety plan, including both aggressive medical testing and a more developed and formalized wastewater surveillance program.
Norwich University remains committed to doing whatever we can to help contain the spread of the virus on our campus and in our larger community. This interdisciplinary and collaborative effort involving students, faculty, staff, and the Northfield community is of utmost importance to our collective health and well-being.
Norwich Together, Norwich Forever!
Mark C. Anarumo, PhD
Col, USAF (ret) President