STORRS, CT (WFSB) - Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, officials have been using nasal swab tests to track infection rates. More scientists are now turning to wastewater to track outbreaks.

Researchers at the University of Connecticut are among those on the forefront.

While UConn continues to randomly test hundreds of students every day with nasal swabs, it’s also keeping tabs on coronavirus levels by studying wastewater.

“It’s been important for detecting the beginnings of outbreaks,” said Dr. Kendra Maas, director, microbial analysis resources and services facility, UConn.

Maas is the director of a DNA sequencing facility on campus.

Since June, she said she’s been collecting samples from the wastewater treatment plant on campus.

By looking at wastewater, Maas and her team of students said they can predict increases in cases.

“So not only are we seeing where people are starting to get sick, I can also see if the levels drop back down in that area,” she explained.

Once large samples of wastewater are taken and the virus is concentrated down, researchers can narrow virus locations on campus.

Teams have mapped out which samples come from which buildings.

“I have samplers in clusters of dorms mostly,” Maas said. “I have a few samplers that are on classroom buildings or public spaces like the student union or library.”

Maas said this type of testing is important when tracking COVID, particularly on a college campus.

“It’s very likely a large number of infected individuals are asymptomatic,” she said. “And they’ll never develop symptoms.”

Maas was encouraged by research being done at Yale University and in parts of Europe.

She said she would love to process samples for other towns and universities.

“Once I have it in the lab, I can process a large number of samples in a day,” she said. “I’m not limited to a certain number of samples I have here at UConn. But getting those samples is somewhat difficult.”

In the next month or so, UConn researchers said they will also be using this method to track the flu on campus.

Copyright 2020 WFSB (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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