The Science of Making Colleges and Universities Safe in the Age of Covid-19 – A Case Study
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As the COVID-19 pandemic challenged the US economy in early 2020, Geosyntec's molecular diagnostic laboratory (SiREM) mobilized to develop an accurate and reliable SARS-CoV-2 virus detection services to support our clients' efforts to provide safe working environments, re-entry, and continuation of operations.

Our viral detection services focused using a turnkey approach: disinfection planning, client representation and strategic planning to reopen with in-house verification testing using the Gold Standard for direct detection of for the unique SARS-CoV-2 virus – Reverse Transcriptase-Quantitative Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-qPCR).

We are now supporting Institutions of Higher Education in the development of reopening plans using viral detection which can serve as an early warning system to mitigate the spread of the virus within classrooms and dormitories. Virus detection efforts can be focused in several areas: multiple wipe composite sampling on high touch point surfaces to verify the presence of the virus; air sampling of buildings using coriolis air samplers; validation sampling of disinfection services using a surrogate virus such as a cloned mammalian virus that can't replicate but that containing the SARS-CoV-2 genome, domestic wastewater sampling at dormitories and other locations within the collection system and pooled saliva sampling. As with all data, actions should be taken, and decision tree analysis is a useful tool. Dashboards showing data to the affected community is helpful. Data can be presented in a specific database and GIS platform to aid in the temporal and spatial analysis of the SARS-CoV-2 results.

"Wastewater epidemiology" has been used for decades to detect polio in countries where the disease remains endemic and, more recently, to estimate the prevalence of opioid abuse in U.S. communities. Our program efforts for COVID -19 have focused to date on municipal and campus wastewaters in many locations. Positive SARS-CoV-2 results in sewage are considered a leading indicator for future outbreaks and serves as the canary in the coal mine. Sewage sampling is "non-invasive" since samples can generally be collected without entering a facility and provides quantitative data to inform decisions on facility precautions and business continuity. The results are representative of overall population health since asymptomatic students and employees can contribute to the virus load in sanitary sewage. If detection is discovered, further analysis can be performed to isolate the infected individual(s) such as pooled saliva sampling.

This presentation will present the virus detection test method, sampling strategies and summarize the findings and approach of several types of clients.

Publication Summary

  • Geosyntec Authors: Matthew Basso, George Hollerbach
  • All Authors: Matthew Basso, George Hollerbach
  • Title: The Westchester Chemical Society Special Seminar
  • Event or Publication: Event
  • Practice Areas: COVID-19 Services
  • Citation: Matthew Basso, CHMM and George Hollerbach, P.E., BCEE, CSP (New Jersey) will present "The Science of Making Colleges and Universities Safe in the Age of Covid-19 – A Case Study" at the Westchester Chemical Society Special Seminar at 7:00 PM EST on December 3, 2020.
  • Date: December 3, 2020
  • Publication Type: Platform Presentation