COVID-19 containment on a college campus via wastewater-based epidemiology, targeted clinical testing and an intervention

Walter Quintero Betancourt, Bradley W. Schmitz, Gabriel K. Innes, Sarah M. Prasek, Kristen M. Pogreba Brown, Erika R. Stark, Aidan R. Foster, Ryan S. Sprissler, David T. Harris, Samendra P. Sherchan, Charles P. Gerba, Ian L. Pepper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

201 Scopus citations


Wastewater-based epidemiology has potential as an early-warning tool for determining the presence of COVID-19 in a community. The University of Arizona (UArizona) utilized WBE paired with clinical testing as a surveillance tool to monitor the UArizona community for SARS-CoV-2 in near real-time, as students re-entered campus in the fall. Positive detection of virus RNA in wastewater lead to selected clinical testing, identification, and isolation of three infected individuals (one symptomatic and two asymptomatic) that averted potential disease transmission. This case study demonstrated the value of WBE as a tool to efficiently utilize resources for COVID-19 prevention and response. Thus, WBE coupled with targeted clinical testing was further conducted on 13 dorms during the course of the Fall semester (Table 3). In total, 91 wastewater samples resulted in positive detection of SARS-CoV-2 RNA that successfully provided an early-warning for at least a single new reported case of infection (positive clinical test) among the residents living in the dorm. Overall, WBE proved to be an accurate diagnostic for new cases of COVID-19 with an 82.0% positive predictive value and an 88.9% negative predictive value. Increases in positive wastewater samples and clinical tests were noted following holiday-related activities. However, shelter-in-place policies proved to be effective in reducing the number of daily reported positive wastewater and clinical tests. This case study provides evidence for WBE paired with clinical testing and public health interventions to effectively contain potential outbreaks of COVID-19 in defined communities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number146408
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Jul 20 2021


  • Dormitory
  • Outbreak prevention
  • Sewer manhole
  • University campus
  • Wastewater surveillance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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