Back in May, Allahpundit wrote a story about a study at Yale which found that by testing wastewater in the town of New Haven, researchers could anticipate a rise in the spread of the virus before it became evident in other ways. The University of Arizona has put that research into action as students returned to school. By testing watsewater the school was able to single out two people who were positive for the virus but who didn’t have symptoms and isolate them quickly.

The way it was done was pretty clever. The team tests the wastewater coming out of each dorm and once they find a positive result, they go to that dorm and test everyone there to identify who is shedding the virus.

Wastewater samples from the Likins dorm on the University of Arizona campus came back positive for COVID-19, according to university president, Dr. Robert Robbins.

Dr. Robbins said they tested the water again, and all five samples came back positive.

He said they performed roughly 311 COVID-19 tests on students and staff in the Likins dorm, and found two positive cases.

Dr. Robbins said those individuals are now in isolation, and they are conducting contact tracing. He said wastewater collected from the other dorms showed no traces of COVID-19.

There’s an entertaining thread about this on Twitter, which is where I heard about it. This goes into a bit more detail:

It seems like the key to making this work is first that the scale has to be fairly small. It seems like a smart way to deal with possible outbreaks on college campuses where you can isolate individual dorms. Would it work at a high school? You could test the wastewater coming from the entire school but if it’s a school of 3,000 that really doesn’t narrow things down very much.

And it obviously wouldn’t help much to test the water at a waste treatement plant in a city of 100,000 because that doesn’t tell you anything about who has it. You’d really need to do this building by building or at least block by block to make it worthwhile. I can’t imagine how many people you’d need to try this in Los Angeles or San Francisco.

On the plus side, this is actually preventative. It’s certainly not glamorous but if it works maybe that would be enough to make it politically palatable.