Madison Co. tracking COVID-19 through wastewater as thousands of college students return

Local News

WAMPSVILLE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Even in a quiet county like Madison, thousands of college students are set to return to campus for the fall semester.

That’s why the county is using a new method to test wastewater in an effort to get an early read on COVID-19 in the community.

Our main goal with this COVID-19 is to prevent the spread of this disease and in order to do that, we need to understand how the disease is being transmitted.

With the wastewater testing, it correlates really well that if you see a rise in the wastewater, it’s about seven days before you start to see cases appear in the community. So, it’s about a seven-day head start, if you will.

Eric Faisst, Public Health Director, Madison County

Through a partnership with Syracuse University, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, SUNY Upstate Medical University, Quadrant Biosciences and local wastewater treatment operators, the early warning detection system can track the virus in real-time before seeing any active positive cases in the community.

The main push for the program is the more than 4,600 college students who are returning to Madison County for the fall semester.

The county has implemented wastewater treatment testing in three college communities.

The treatment plants will target:

  • Cazenovia College
  • Colgate University
  • SUNY Morrisville

“We see that as kind of our potential hot spots going into the fall and then also with public schools opening. So if there’s any way where we can kind of get out ahead of this and see if there’s going to be a spike in cases, this is going to be how we’re going to try to track that,” Faisst explained.

The samples are collected from the treatment plants twice a week and then sent to Quadrant Biosciences for testing and analysis to see if there is any detection of COVID-19.

The health department can then track the virus and take appropriate action to limit the spread within the community.

Sample collection started in Madison County on July 15 and will last 12 weeks. The county started this early to get a baseline before the students return to the county.

If a spike in cases happens to be detected by the wastewater testing system at one of the colleges, the county health department will isolate, quarantine and conduct target testing as needed.

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