Siena College sends wastewater samples to lab for early detection of COVID-19

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LOUDONVILLE, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Siena College is participating in a student initiated wastewater testing program. School officials say the program can pinpoint positive cases of the coronavirus throughout the campus.

NEWS10 ABC followed the four samples that were collected by students last week. The samples were then taken to Quadrant Biosciences Lab in Syracuse.

Siena College students Cassie Hammecker, Anne Larsen and Jennifer Guzman have been collecting human waste throughout the campus to track the virus.

Last week they got their hands dirty by collecting wastewater from four different dorms and townhouses on campus. Adirondack Environmental Services picked up the samples and took them to the lab to be tested.

“So the lab takes the wastewater and they separate the sample that will be analyzed. Then they will freeze the rest of it,”  said Dr. David Larsen, Associate Professor of Public Health at Syracuse University.

Within only 48 hours, Quadrant Biosciences had the results for the four samples at Siena. The college has a COVID-19 dashboard where the public is able to review the weekly results.

The levels of the test are broken down into three categories. The levels can not be detected, or they could be present but only show small amounts of the virus or they could be quantifiable. The highest level is quantifiable. This type of level can show that a person may have the virus or may have had it previously.

In the first sample at Hennepin Hall, the virus was not detected. Dr. Larsen breaks down the results.

“So the first level is not detected. That is my favorite level. I love finding that the virus is not there,” said he.

In the second sample at Plassmann Hall, the virus was detected but not quantifiable. Dr. Larsen says the virus was present but at low amounts.

“The virus is detected but not quite quantifiable. So there has to be a certain amount of genetic copies in the sample for it to be quantifiable,” said he.

The last two samples were at Cushing Village Townhouses and MacClosky Square Townhouses. Both of these had quantifiable levels. Dr. Larsen says quantifiable is a higher level than detected. The limit of quantification is 5 copies (RNA strands) per milliliter for wastewater.

“When the levels are quantifiable we can standardize the level to the amount of human material in the wastewater sample,” said he.

Dr. Larsen says the lab then takes a deeper look to see if the levels will go up or down.

“We can see if its increasing or decreasing. The increasing and decreasing levels of intensity will correlate directly with the increasing and decreasing number of cases,” said he.

Siena College is expected to test the wastewater again this week. School officials say hopefully all the levels will continue to stay down.  

The college partnered with Adirondack Environmental Services to help them collect data for over 2,000 students.

Siena Professor Dr. Kate Meierdiercks says her hope is that doing this wastewater surveillance it can help keep the students on campus and in the clasroom.

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