Editor’s note: The Salt Lake Tribune is providing free access to critical stories about the coronavirus. Sign up for our Top Stories newsletter, sent to your inbox every weekday morning. To support journalism like this, please donate or become a subscriber.
Utah State University is asking 287 residents across four student dormitories to quarantine after elevated levels of COVID-19 were found in wastewater samples.
Citing a safety alert that went out Sunday over the university’s alert system, USU’s student newspaper, The Utah Statesman, reported the quarantine order. A school spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.
Rich, Jones, Morgan and Davis halls are the affected residence areas, according to the alert published online. Those four dorms represent half of the living options in the Student Living Center, located in the northeast corner of the Logan campus.
The safety alert said the school is working with the state Department of Health and the Bear River Health Department to organize testing for all 287 students Sunday and Monday. Test results are expected to take up to four days, with classes set to begin on Monday.
Until the results are available, quarantined students must stay in their rooms or suites, where they will receive food deliveries and other resources, the alert said. Faculty will work out academic accommodations for the students, it said.
There are currently no reported positive tests for COVID-19 in any residence halls, the alert noted. USU’s coronavirus website, with data last updated on Friday, reported 21 active cases reported to the school, with 19 among students living in off-campus housing. The other two cases are a faculty member and a staff member.
Utah State is one of a small handful of schools using wastewater sampling to help safeguard against a COVID-19 outbreak. The method got more attention recently after the University of Arizona used it to thwart what was likely to be a sizable outbreak on a campus with roughly 35,000 undergraduates.
Wastewater sampling had already paid dividends in the state of Utah. A study of the detection method found a big viral surge in Hyrum’s and Logan’s wastewater the week before the Cache Valley’s COVID-19 caseload exploded. Sharp increases of the virus had been measured in late May, about a week before 287 positive tests were reported among workers at JBS Beef Plant in Hyrum.
That study was headed by Jennifer Weidhaas, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Utah, along with colleagues from Brigham Young University, USU and the state Department of Health.