Twice a week, CC math professor Andrea Bruder ventures into the dark sewage tunnels below South Hall wearing head-to-toe protective gear. She then hovers above an opening in a large metal sewage pipe and patiently waits for a student to flush.
That flush carries just enough water that is then collected and eventually sent to a lab for processing.
With just two testing sites, the operation is still small, and we haven't yet been able to invest in a 24-hour pump as CSU has. That means Bruder has to fetch the samples herself — and spend her evenings crawling into dark, damp tunnels, waiting for a flush.
She does this because people who've become infected with SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, shed virus particles through their feces when they go to the bathroom. So, wastewater monitoring provides an early opportunity to catch the virus because it can detect an infection days before respiratory symptoms show up. Even if they never show up at all in the case of asymptomatic individuals.
Unlike our efforts at CC, the team at CSU doesn't have to crawl underground and wait for a flush to collect samples. Instead, there's a pump that does the dirty work for them, collecting wastewater every 15 minutes over 24 hours. It costs CSU about $25,000 a month to process and analyze the wastewater samples, which is a lot cheaper than doing individual clinical tests, but still... it's not an inexpensive undertaking.
At CC, we are currently waiting to hear back from an environmental consulting firm with a proposal for installing autosamplers on campus, similar to those at CSU. Each autosampler is about $4,000, and we need 7-8 of them. Individual test kits are $295 each, and we're currently using 4 per week but would need 8 or 9 to sample from all three major residence halls on campus and 2-4 more to sample at supplemental housing and off campus housing near campus.
We anticipate that our costs will be about as much as CSU's, and that's why we're asking for your help in keeping our students safe. This testing process isn't cheap, but it's incredibly more cost-efficient than the individual testing we've done so far. And our tuition costs alone do not help off-set the strain this puts on the college, but I'm sure you'll agree that the investment is worth it. Not only in terms of reducing the spread of Covid-19 but also in helping us monitor and prevent similar outbreaks for years to come. By making a gift to the CC Covid-19 Wastewater Testing initiative, you can partner with us in investing in the CC infrastructure needed to help keep students safe. We hope you'll join us. Thank you so much.