OU researchers looking to use wastewater to stop spread of COVID-19

NORMAN, Okla. — University of Oklahoma researchers are working to slow the spread of COVID-19 with a unique approach -- using wastewater.

Researchers on the Norman campus’s microbiology department are collecting wastewater samples across campus to look for coronavirus.

They’re sampling the sanitary sewers including those that come out of the dorms, then testing those samples in their lab to detect levels of COVID-19 to look for trends and spikes.

Researchers at the University of Arizona used this technique in August and detected the virus in a dorm that housed about 300 students. They tested all of those students and found two asymptomatic students they could move out of there and seemingly stop the spread.

The researchers at OU see their testing continuing beyond the pandemic for long-term monitoring to look for seasonal infectious diseases and viruses like the flu or a potential future pandemic.

Some Oklahoma cities have shown interest in the same kind of testing, but budget constraints may prevent it as it costs about $500 per sample. This includes the collection of the wastewater, transporting the samples and testing.