Eastern Michigan University to conduct wastewater testing for presence of COVID-19 virus markers in campus residences

Results help track spread or reduction of virus, facilitate quicker healthcare response

Aquasight team installs wastewater testing equipment on campus.
Aquasight installing wastewater testing equipment
The Aquasight team installs wastewater testing equipment on campus. See more images of the installation.

YPSILANTI – Eastern Michigan University is adding another layer of COVID-19 testing to its return-to-campus plan and will soon begin testing wastewater for infectious diseases such as COVID-19.

The University is partnering with the Michigan-based firm Aquasight to track the presence of the virus in wastewater flowing from residence halls and apartment complexes on the EMU campus. This monitoring process, while not diagnostic, may provide early detection of asymptomatic cases.

Wastewater surveillance, as practiced by Aquasight, is a fast-evolving science. It works for both asymptomatic and symptomatic individuals, an important distinction, because it has been shown that individuals with COVID-19 may not show symptoms at all or it may take two weeks to show symptoms. Other universities, such as University of Arizona and Utah State University, are doing similar testing.

Tests have shown that wastewater contains infectious biomarkers such as COVID-19 RNA, which can signal the growth or reduction of the virus in a community or around a campus such as Eastern’s.

Such advance notice will provide vital information for EMU and local healthcare officials to both predict potential outbreaks and to monitor if the infectious diseases are lessening in the University community.

“Wastewater testing is another important method to track the prevalence of COVID-19 on our campus,” said Eastern Michigan University President James Smith. “The results of the tests will help us pinpoint any concerning trends and expand individual testing among specific populations as necessary.”

The effort continues the University’s extensive efforts to maintain a safe campus amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The #EMUSafe initiative includes COVID-19 testing that includes all students moving into residence halls, student athletes and other specific populations, a daily health screening and check-in process, the mandatory wearing of face coverings while on campus, modification of classroom space to provide physical distancing, and extensive campus signage and continued education on how to stay safe and healthy.

The Aquasight team visited the EMU campus on Friday, Sept. 11, and Monday, Sept. 14 to install sampling units at various sewage lines around campus. Sampling and subsequent lab testing will begin in the upcoming weeks.

About Eastern Michigan University

Founded in 1849, Eastern is the second oldest public university in Michigan. It currently serves nearly 18,000 students pursuing undergraduate, graduate, specialist, doctoral and certificate degrees in the arts, sciences and professions. In all, more than 300 majors, minors and concentrations are delivered through the University's Colleges of Arts and Sciences; Business; Education; Engineering and Technology; Health and Human Services; and, its graduate school. EMU is regularly recognized by national publications for its excellence, diversity, and commitment to applied education. For more information about Eastern Michigan University, visit the University's website.

September 17, 2020

Written by:
Geoff Larcom

Media Contact:
Geoff Larcom