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UT tests sewage for COVID-19

Scientists are using data collected from sewage testing to identify COVID-19 clusters on campus.
Published: Sep. 23, 2020 at 11:58 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - The University of Tennessee is turning to sewage from campus housing to identify COVID-19 cases.

“We get an idea of which dorms, sororities, and fraternities that there may be some infected individuals in,” said Terry Hazen.

Each week Hazen’s lab tests sewage samples from the 48 houses and dorms on the Knoxville campus. Many have a clean bill of heath — but others can’t say the same.

“There’s a couple that are showing pretty high virus loads,” said Hazen.

Using sewage testing helps health officials identify COVID-19 clusters.

“The samples that we took yesterday, I got those last night at 10 o’clock. Can scale it up to a thousand samples a day.”

Then, Frank Loeffler’s lab takes over the process by passing out saliva tests to identify who has the virus. The test tubes are collected the next morning.

“We don’t have any personal information. We don’t know who provided the samples."

It’s left up to student health to get in touch with sick Vols, but some students are worried about questions for contact tracers.

“My impression is that they are somewhat nervous about consequences of testing results...the goal is not to punish anybody. the goal is to understand the prevalence of the virus.”

Copyright 2020 WVLT. All rights reserved.

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