UC San Diego detects coronavirus in wastewater samples from five areas of campus

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UC San Diego says it detected traces of the novel coronavirus in five areas of campus over the weekend after it greatly expanded its search for the pathogen in wastewater samples drawn from dozens of buildings.

The positive tests could involve as many as 14 residence halls and two laundries. But school officials also said Tuesday the findings also could represent only a small number of sites and very few infections.

The virus is present in a person’s feces during the early phase of their infection, making the wastewater from restrooms an ideal place to look for traces of the pathogen. Contact tracing can then be used to try to find infected people.


The university issued a statement Tuesday that said that anyone who used bathrooms in the 14 dorms and two laundry rooms between 11 a.m. Sunday and 1 p.m. on Monday should be tested for COVID-19.

The bathrooms are located in parts of Seventh College, the Rita Atkinson residence hall, Eleanor Roosevelt College, Central Mesa and the Nuevo West residences.

“This wastewater testing system is a way to stay one step ahead of the virus on campus at a time when there is increasing viral activity in the county,” said Natasha Martin, a UCSD infectious disease modeler.

UCSD began sampling wastewater for the virus in late summer and quickly detected the pathogen at Revelle College and tracked it back to two asymptomatic people who might have been the source.

At the time, the campus had six sampling stations. On Sunday, it expanded the number to 52 samplers that examine wastewater from 100 residence halls.

The surveillance program is part of Return to Learn, UCSD’s effort to use COVID-19 screening and monitoring to progressively reopen the campus.


Most of the school’s more than 40,000 students are still taking all or most of their classes online. But UCSD has housed nearly 10,000 students this fall and is preparing to offer some classes in outdoor tents early next year to expand face-to-face instruction.

Since early October, 108 UCSD students have tested positive for the virus, a number that’s far lower than at many large schools. San Diego State University has reported more than 1,400 infections.

Robbins writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.