New Mexico universities use wastewater samples to detect COVID-19 early | KOB 4

New Mexico universities use wastewater samples to detect COVID-19 early

Megan Abundis
Created: November 10, 2020 10:26 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Could what goes down the drain be the key to early detection of COVID-19? Some wastewater researchers think so.

More states are starting to test wastewater and sewage for the virus—a method that dates back to polio research. Now, student researchers  at NMSU are trying it out on campus. 

Professor John Xu, with the NMSU Biology Department, said to look at the process as an early detection system. Positive COVID samples of sludge often show up a week before traditional COVID testing. 

Professor Xu and his students picked nine collection points at dorms around NMSU campus to get sewage samples. Recently, they found six positive samples.

“So, in, in general, from that positive sample,  that means there's a positive case, one or more than one in that dorm,” Xu said. 

NMSU currently has 45 active COVID cases, and a total of nearly 300 since March 2020. With these new positive samples, Xu said it’s up to NMSU’s administration to determine next steps.

The New Mexico Department of Health is assisting the university with the study, and the CDC recently asked for states’ wastewater samples to be submitted nationally.  

Xu said they’ll keep lifting the manhole covers to collect samples in order to establish trends.

It’s unclear where this testing will expand next in our state. UNM said they tried out a preliminary pilot test at the dorms and are awaiting results.

Once the results come in, UNM said they might expand wastewater testing to all student housing.  



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