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Wastewater Surveillance of SARS-CoV‑2 at a Canadian University Campus and the Impact of Wastewater Characteristics on Viral RNA Detection

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journal contribution
posted on 12.05.2022, 19:07 by Lena Carolin Bitter, Richard Kibbee, Gabriela C. Jiménez, Banu Örmeci
Because of the increased population density, high-risk behavior of young students, and lower vaccination rates, university campuses are considered hot spots for COVID-19 transmission. This study monitored the SARS-CoV-2 RNA levels in the wastewater of a Canadian university campus for a year to provide actionable information to safely manage COVID-19 on campus. Wastewater samples were collected from the campus sewer and residence buildings to identify changes, peaks, and hotspots and search for associations with campus events, social gatherings, long weekends, and holidays. Furthermore, the impact of wastewater parameters (total solids, volatile solids, temperature, pH, turbidity, and UV absorbance) on SARS-CoV-2 detection was investigated, and the efficiency of ultrafiltration and centrifugation concentration methods were compared. RT-qPCR was used for detecting SARS-CoV-2 RNA. Wastewater signals largely correlated positively with the clinically confirmed COVID-19 cases on campus. Long weekends and holidays were often followed by increased viral signals, and the implementation of lockdowns quickly decreased the case numbers. In spite of online teaching and restricted access to campus, the university represented a microcosm of the city and mirrored the same trends. Results indicated that the centrifugation concentration method was more sensitive for wastewater with high solids content and that the ultrafiltration concentration method was more sensitive for wastewater with low solids content. Wastewater characteristics collected from the buildings and the campus sewer were different. Statistical analysis was performed to manifest the observations. Overall, wastewater surveillance provided actionable information and was also able to bring high-risk factors and events to the attention of decision-makers, enabling timely corrective measures.