UC Berkeley monitors levels of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in sewage at several locations around campus. This wastewater monitoring allows for broader tracking of virus levels in the campus population that is unbiased by who accesses individual testing. It may also provide an early warning of outbreaks, because people with COVID-19 may shed the virus in feces before they show symptoms (and even if they never show symptoms). UC Berkeley began monitoring several campus wastewater locations for SARS-CoV-2 beginning in summer 2020. Sample collection is conducted by a team from the campus Office of Environment, Health & Safety, and testing of the samples is performed in a temporary laboratory established by Prof. Kara Nelson’s research group.
How the testing works
Wastewater samples are collected from each site over a 24 hour period (representing a “composite”), and samples are taken up to three days a week. Current sampling sites represent parts of Clark Kerr Campus, University Village, and a neighborhood of on- and off-campus residences on the South side of campus.
Samples are delivered to an on-campus laboratory in Hildebrand Hall. There, laboratory staff extract the genetic material from the wastewater and analyze it using qPCR to quantify how much SARS-CoV-2, if any, is present. Results are provided to the campus COVID-19 Response team within 36 hours of sample collection.
How the information is used
Wastewater results can be used in tandem with individual testing and contact tracing to more quickly identify members of the campus community who are infected with COVID-19 and to track overall trends of COVID-19 in the population. Wastewater results may help guide allocation of testing resources and contact tracing, inform messaging to the campus community, and corroborate individual case data.