Missouri State University began conducting residence hall-wide COVID-19 saliva tests in Scholars House over the weekend after high levels of the virus were traced in the residence hall’s wastewater.
The university has tested on-campus wastewater for traces of COVID-19 since the start of the fall semester. However, the university decided to invest in their own wastewater surveillance program, as the initial testing, conducted by the state, was only reaching half of campus, David Hall, director of university safety, said.
With the installation of an in-house program, led by David Vaughan, director of environmental management, the wastewater from each residence hall can now be tested.
The wastewater surveillance program’s physical sample collection began in mid-October, with regular tests occurring each week, Vaughan said. The test of the wastewater, which indicated the higher levels of COVID-19 within Scholar House’s wastewater, was collected on Wednesday, Nov. 4.
According to Vaughan, the university’s surveillance team currently has four rounds of sample data, so they are just beginning to define what may be considered “normal” levels of COVID-19 in wastewater.
“Because there is no established standard action level for COVID-19 in wastewater, we do not look at specific numbers, but rather have to look at sample numbers relative to either previous numbers seen at that location or potentially from other locations,” Vaughan said. “The Nov. 4 Scholars House data set was high enough relative to other sample sets that the larger management team felt, even with minimal historic data at that point, that it justified further investigation.”
According to Gary Stewart, director of residence life, housing and dining services, the appropriate university faculty and staff were notified of the higher levels of COVID-19 in the residence hall Thursday, Nov. 12.
Mandatory saliva-based tests were given to all Scholars House residents, including residence hall assistants and the hall director Friday, Nov. 13, Stewart said. Receptionists and the front desk night host were offered optional testing.
According to Hall, after a student receives their testing kit, they are to register the kit online, ensuring they will receive the test results. Once registered, the test must be filled with saliva to an indicated line, then closed and packaged correctly for shipping to the testing center.
87 tests were provided to the residents of Scholars House, 55 results are back as of Tuesday, Nov. 17, and of those all have come back negative, Hall said.
Some Scholars House residents did not return from the weekend until Monday morning, so the process of testing and receiving test results is ongoing, said Stewart as of Tuesday, Nov. 17.
According to Hall, Scholars House residents were not required to quarantine.
“If we know somebody’s symptomatic, then obviously we pull them out and have them quarantine until we find out (their results),” Hall said. “But with this, we don’t necessarily know anybody who is positive or symptomatic, and so it wouldn’t make sense to quarantine these 55 that have come back negative.”
Saliva-based tests are sent to Clinical Reference Laboratory in Lenexa, Kansas, Hall said. CRL is the same laboratory the university utilizes for on-campus testing, available four days a week. For a full on-campus asymptomatic testing schedule, click here.