Oregon State University has found traces of the coronavirus in the sewer outflows of two residence halls and one apartment building, university officials said.

The buildings affected are Sackett Hall on the west side of campus, the OSU-affiliated GEM housing complex just north of the campus on Kings Boulevard and the unidentified residence hall being used to quarantine students who test positive for COVID-19.

OSU’s Team-based Rapid Assessment of Community-Level Coronavirus Epidemics (TRACE) testing program began testing Wednesday to determine if any students living in the buildings has the virus. Testing will continue through 5 p.m. Thursday.

“These wastewater results are an early indicator and prompt us to investigate further, which we already are prepared to do with rapid targeted diagnostic testing of possibly affected OSU community members,” said Dan Larson, vice provost for student affairs and OSU’s COVID-19 response coordinator. “We also are prepared to support contact tracing with Benton County, provide on-campus isolation and quarantine as advised, provide student support services, and continue weekly TRACE OSU sampling and wastewater analysis.

“Today’s diagnostic testing is being done out of an abundance of caution.”

Tyler Radniecki, OSU associate professor in the School of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering and a TRACE co-principal investigator, said that the campus-wide wastewater testing as of Sept. 27 detected the presence of the virus only in the three OSU buildings already mentioned.

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Larson said students living in Sackett Hall and the GEM have the option of being tested or quarantining for 14 days. The Sackett students would quarantine in the university residence hall designated for COVID-19 isolation/quarantine or at home; GEM students would quarantine in a single room at the GEM or at home.

Each week, TRACE OSU conducts routine, random COVID-19 testing of up to 1,000 faculty, staff and students and wastewater analysis to monitor the presence of the virus at Oregon State’s campuses in Corvallis and Bend and at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.

“We are not able to estimate the number of individual cases from wastewater analysis of a specific building,” Radniecki said. “By way of background, similar levels of the virus were seen in Corvallis community wastewater the third week of July. Those signals have since subsided.”

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