HOLLAND – After a year of monitoring wastewater for signs of COVID-19 on campus, Hope College is receiving state funding to expand its monitoring operations.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced nearly $ 49 million to support 19 projects that will continue COVID-19 wastewater monitoring and implement COVID-19 variant strain testing.
Hope College’s Global Water Research Institute will receive more than $ 7.5 million, the most of 19 projects across the state.
Sewage monitoring resulted in 103 follow-up testing events and the identification of 90 asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 in Hope this academic year, according to Aaron Best, one of the faculty members who led the initiative at Hope.
Funding to Hope College will be used to support staff and supplies as the operation grows, as well as to lease space at Michigan State University Bioeconomy Institute in Holland.
So far, Hope College is ready to work with six local health departments serving nine counties – Allegan, Ottawa, Barry, Eaton, Kalamazoo, Calhoun, Branch, Hillsdale and St. Joseph.
After:Hope Wastewater Watch Identifies COVID Cases
After:Hope to use sewage testing to help monitor virus levels
After:GVSU researchers track COVID-19 with wastewater
âWe were running a pretty big operation in Hope. This more than doubles our capacity, âsaid Best, professor of genetics and chair of the biology department.
Best said that Hope College receiving most of the state funding is a testament to the great work being done at the college.
âThere is clear evidence of what we have been doing on campus over the past year,â he said. âWe can use it, we can do it efficiently and we get data the same day we collect the sample. All of this is essential in order to be able to use information like this to make real-time decisions.
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With several key COVID-19 measures on the decline and restrictions lifted, Best said it’s fair to ask why this monitoring is still needed. But he says now is the exact time when this strategy is most appropriate.
âI would say that’s exactly when we need this type of monitoring,â he said. âWhen there is a low incidence of cases or no cases for a period of time, with a reasonably high vaccination rate but not sufficient for herd immunity, that is when it becomes most valuable.
“If we do regular monitoring … you know you don’t have any signal (of COVID-19 in sewage), then if all of a sudden there is a signal, you know you have cases in that area. and the local health department can respond accordingly.
Best explained that, based on what they have seen over the past year, there appears to be a seven to 10 day delay between when COVID-19 signals are detected in wastewater and when cases are reported.
If true, it could allow continuous wastewater monitoring to detect potential outbreaks in their early stages, thus limiting the spread.
âIf you do this monitoring and you see a signal, chances are you detected it soon enough,â he said. “It’s a bit speculative on a certain level, but that’s the hope.”
Best added that partnerships with local health services have been and continue to be a critical part of surveillance. He also said wastewater monitoring could be useful in tracking a number of diseases in the future, especially with the infrastructure in place.
A total of 19 projects will be state funded through July 2023, including a $ 1.7 million grant to Richard Rediske’s lab at the Annis Water Resources Institute at Grand Valley State University.