Understanding the role of environmental transmission of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2 ) is an important part of assessing the potential impacts of non-pharmacological prevention strategies. There is currently great uncertainty about viral exposures in workplaces, educational settings, and transportation and residential settings, as well as a need to better understand predictors of exposure risk in such settings.
To address this need, a team of School of Public Health faculty and staff are making measurements of air, surfaces, and sewage at a variety of locations on campus, and analyzing these samples for the virus. Over the course of the semester, we will be collecting samples from indoor air, different interior surfaces, and sewage from the School of Public Health, the School of Music, Theater, and Dance, the Campus Safety Services Building, and the Mosher-Jordan and Stockwell dormitories. We are also collecting air and surface samples from U-M buses.
We are examining these samples to determine what environments are potentially associated with exposures to the virus in air and on surfaces, and to examine the relationship between virus we find in sewage and COVID infection rates in the buildings from which the sewage was collected.
We completed baseline sampling in all of these locations prior to the return of students to campus during the week of August 24, and will continue to sample these locations weekly over the course of the semester. Our work is similar to efforts underway at other universities to measure the virus in sewage, but our combination of sewage, air, and surface samples appears to be unique in the US.
Due to limited resources, our pilot study is not intended to provide comprehensive sewage sampling for all dormitories on campus (e.g., at the University of Arizona sewage samples are being collected twice a week from all dormitories). Additionally, the wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) approach we are using is very promising, but must currently be considered a complementary approach to other methods, as a substantial amount of research is still needed to make it a reliable tool for virus monitoring.