OSU Testing Sewage for COVID-19

As part of Oregon State University’s (OSU) TRACE-COVID-19 community prevalence research, sewage water has been tested for genetic signs of COVID-19 since May. 

Genetic evidence found in the wastewater enables researchers to monitor potential hotspots, and to share that information with health authorities. While there is no indication that the virus can survive as an infectious agent in sewage, RNA signatures do survive and are detectable. The OSU lab turns around the genetic testing in about three days.  

 Associate professor of environmental engineering at OSU Tyler Radniecki and colleague Christine Kelly found no detectable genetic material from SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19, until late July. On July 20 they noticed a significant spike, followed by a three week drop in detection. However, the genetic evidence has continued at moderate levels.   

The wastewater research will continue for the next two and a half years thanks to a $1.2 million Oregon Health Authority grant. Throughout the fall term, researchers will sample wastewater from OSU’s campuses in Corvallis and Bend, focusing on sewage from university housing and other campus buildings. The research will also test sewage from the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. This research will help identify hotspots and general trends  

on campus.  

TRACE-COVID-19’s door-to-door sampling will resume in Corvallis the weekend of September 12-13. Sampling from four weekends in the late spring suggested a community prevalence of between one and two COVID-19 cases per 1,000 people.  

By Emily Weninger