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Wastewater testing works and other top tips from APPA’s Town Hall on returning to campus

APPA held a Town Hall on Sept. 11 to discuss successes and challenges from universities’ reopening plans. The seven Town Hall advisory panelists shared their stories and experiences, practices, and recommendations, which expanded on the newly released APPA survey of challenges and lessons learned. Click here for more on the survey results. 

The advisory panelists included:

  • Erik Backus, P.E., Professor of Practice and the Howard E. Lechler Endowed Director of the Construction Engineering Management program at Clarkson University.
  • Emmet Boyle, Director of Maintenance & Utilities, University of Regina, in Saskatchewan, Canada.
  • David Brewer, Director of Building Services for Infrastructure, Planning, and Facilities at Michigan State University.
  • Karren Bee-Donohoe, Associate Vice-Chancellor of the Office for Capital Facilities at the State University of New York (SUNY) System Administration
  • Tony Ichsan, Director of Facilities at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington
  • Chris Kopach, Assistant Vice President of Facilities Management at the University of Arizona
  • John Morris, P.E., APPA Fellow, Vice President for Facilities Management at the College of Charleston

Click here to see all the highlights from this informative discussion, but here are a few that were especially noteworthy:

  • “Testing virus shedding in the sewage system through the analysis of wastewater has helped institutions determine the presence of the virus well before actual symptoms are noticed. Institutions employing this approach are mostly taking a sample from a manhole every half-hour for 24 hours to obtain a composite sample, then send it to the lab. The best locations for this use are from buildings with a defined population (residence halls are ideal). Then you can conduct more specific testing on those occupants only.
  • The pool testing option is done by combining spit from a group of 10-12 students in that testing sample. If negative, all are clear. If positive, then each individual in that sample is tested to determine who is positive. It allows testing many students at a lower cost. If the positivity rate gets too high, you can revert to an individual testing protocol.
  • Michigan State University has implemented a “Spartan Spit” pool testing program. The trouble is it requires a fairly high bar of participation (something like 70%). It’s a very effective tool when you can deploy it, as it’s incredibly accurate and good for early detection.
  • Contact tracing at the University of Arizona uses their wastewater testing program (which they are expanding dramatically to all residence halls, Greek Life, their off-campus high-rise apartments, and even the local community) to immediately contact students testing positive, transport them to designated isolation dorms, and trace others for possible quarantine. The wastewater test has allowed detection a full seven days before the virus is prevalent, so they can catch it and nip it before it becomes a huge super spreader.
  • A comprehensive testing program (sewer water, individual and pool testing) aids in a successful contact tracing program. They go hand-in-hand.
  • Abbott Labs has a new nasal swab ‘card’ coming on the market. The cost is $5 per card and, although it needs to be administered at the health center, it gives a 15-minute result. Plus, you don’t need a piece of equipment to administer. This is likely to be one of the tools for the future.”

The panel concluded that there has been no other time that facilities management has played such a key role on all our campuses from cleaning and disinfecting to flushing water systems, HVAC optimization, and the list goes on.