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Florida Atlantic University researchers testing wastewater for signs of COVID-19

Tests help identify potential hot spots on campus
FAU collects wastewater sample to test for COVID-19
Posted at 5:29 PM, Dec 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-07 23:43:14-05

BOCA RATON, Fla. — It's something we all do, and a simple flush can now be quite revealing.

Researchers at Florida Atlantic University are tracking COVID-19 on campus by testing wastewater for signs of the virus.

"People use the restroom, they shed the COVID-19 virus and we find the remnants of it in the wastewater," explained Frederick Bloetscher.

Bloetscher is an engineering professor at the FAU campus in Boca Raton.

"With any [kind of] pandemic disease outbreak, wastewater is one of the good places to track this stuff," Bloetscher said. "It can be pretty nasty."

Contact 5 tagged along as Bloetscher and some graduate students went around campus, collecting wastewater samples to test for traces of the coronavirus.

"He's literally putting it down in the raw wastewater, gets a sample out and pours it into our sample bottle," Bloetscher explained.

Bloetscher told Contact 5 that when the testing started several months ago, "the COVID amounts were fairly low." But the concentrations have increased with time.

The samples Bloetscher and the graduate students collect are kept cool and taken to a lab on campus. Over several days, those samples are spun down, concentrated, extracted and finally placed into a PCR machine.

Frederick Bloetscher, FAU engineering professor, talks about testing wastewater for COVID-19
"The idea is we could provide this type of service to local governments, and they can track what COVID looks like in their community," FAU engineering professor Frederick Bloetscher says.

"The past sample we took a couple of weeks ago, it spiked quite a bit," Bloetscher said. "It mimics what you see at virtually every other university across the United States."

On the day Contact 5 went along, results from the sample collected showed a drop in the concentration of COVID-19 from two weeks prior. Bloetscher said it's a sign of fewer people on campus with the coronavirus.

"We're not saying do anything with the information," Bloetscher explained. "As we track it and if you see spikes continue to go, then if someone wants to try to figure out measures to go do, you have the data to support it."

Now, Bloetscher hopes to test samples in neighboring communities.

"We've reached out to a couple of municipalities already," Bloetscher said. "The idea is we could provide this type of service to local governments, and they can track what COVID looks like in their community."