UNC Charlotte sewage water tests hope to prevent spread of COVID-19

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CHARLOTTE, NC (FOX 46 CHARLOTTE) – Sewage water testing is happening at UNC-Charlotte as a way to detect and prevent the spread of COVID 19.

Nicolas Stark and Mitch Modlin are two student scientists collecting it. “It feels nice to be a part of the testing project, where we’re really ultimately trying to prevent students from having COVID,” Stark said. “In a very small way, we’re contributing to the world, you know, ending the pandemic ending the virus.” 37 sites are monitoring dorms and buildings on campus.

They’re checked three times a week and samples are taken to a lab for testing. Professor Mariya Munir is a lead scientist for the Wastewater Monitoring Project. It started last fall and 16 dorms are connected to sewage pipes allowing scientists to test samples. It’s keeping students from being tested daily.

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“People start shedding virus way before they actually can start feeling a symptom, or they feel sick,” Munir said. “So that’s what this whole monitoring system is helpful because you can actually detect various ways in advance.” Scientists have and are able to detect the virus in student’s waste at least a week before they show symptoms. And can identify, test, and isolate students with the virus before it spreads or creates a new variant. “Unpredictability of this particular situation is one of the biggest challenges because we cannot plan ahead, again, in terms of all the resources and lab supplies and everything,” Munir said. With students back on campus this week.

Researchers will likely be busier finding positive tests over the next several days. Scientists say they’re seeing an increase in COVID cases on-campus that aligns with Mecklenburg County numbers. Meantime they’re working to find different sequences of the virus. “You’re contributing whatever, you know, from the knowledge for this particular situation,” Munir said. “We feel that we are well prepared for any other virus or any other contaminant that might be coming in the future.”

Researchers are hoping to expand the project statewide and collect samples from various demographics and in other zip codes to better understand the virus. They’re also looking at how to expand testing into off-campus apartments.

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