Albion College has established many preventative measures to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. As students have eased back into life on campus, some measures have started to feel like a new normal. Other students, however, are still adjusting. In an effort to track the notorious virus, Albion College is now testing the sewage from certain residential buildings.
“We had heard about it at a couple other institutions and municipalities were starting to do that,” said Doug Laditka, vice president of Facilities Management at Albion. “It’s a quicker way to forecast an outbreak and shut it down before it happens.”
At first, the protocol was a surprise to many Albion residents, particularly students, but it has helped Albion reduce its number of COVID-19 cases by mitigating the spread.
“The sewage testing allowed us to know that we needed to intensively test individually the frats,” said Albion College President Dr. Mathew Johnson. “The next scheduled test for students wasn’t going to be until Sept. 6 for only the athletes, and the following Tuesday for all the students. So, that’s a period of time where communicability would have been happening inside the house, and we wouldn’t have known about that had we not had the sewage test.”
The sewage testing was established in order to implement a less regimented testing program. By testing sewage water, the college can still identify positive COVID-19 cases without having to schedule individual student testing for the overall student population.
“So, what it allows us to do now is to start to game out for the rest of the semester, can we begin to spread out the individual tests, which makes for less inconvenience for students, also less costly cause the individual tests are expensive it’s also less pressure on the staff,” said Johnson. “So, if we’re doing the sewage testing, we can stretch out the individual tests and target the individual tests where we find positives in the sewage.”
The test results are coming from a few different residential buildings so far. The sample is collected through a device dropped into a sewer main.
“Many of the mains we own, the frats we own the main, Wesley we own the main and Seaton we own the main so we started there,” said Johnson. “Now, we also have them on the towers and we’re evaluating where else we might put them.”
Albion was able to implement testing at these residential buildings on their property. As they looked to other locations closer to or off campus, more work needed to be done.
“We have had to have contact with Albion City because some of the mains are owned by the city,” said Johnson. “They’re concerned as you might imagine about us putting a device on their mains which may damage their mains and who pays for that damage they’ve been fairly cooperative.”
As the results keep coming, less positive cases indicate that the campus is doing well and taking the right precautions.
“If you’re wearing your mask and social distancing, then we have to test less, which means we’re going to find less positives. We’re going to have less quarantines,” said Johnson. “It all goes back to those practices that we have to do individually. The testing is just a verification that we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing.”