USC announces new COVID-19 wastewater testing for Cale and Irani Residential College

The pilot program starts on Oct. 13, and residents will be moved to unobserved self-collection for COVID-19 surveillance testing prior to the program launch.

USC announced a new wastewater sampling program for Cale and Irani Residential College in USC Village to “prevent transmission of COVID-19” starting Oct. 13.

In an email sent to residents Friday, USC outlined the specifics of the plan, which involves collecting samples from wastewater pipes of the building and testing them for COVID-19. If the results are positive, residents will be notified and follow-up testing may be advised within 24 hours.

Before the launch of the wastewater testing program, residents will be moved to the next phase of “Pop Testing,” meaning they must self-collect samples and drop them off at specific locations, according to the email. USC will distribute kits for that purpose and designate drop-off points within the residential college.

“Wastewater testing—in combination with surveillance testing (Pop Testing) of asymptomatic populations; and clinical screening, diagnosis and testing of symptomatic individuals, can broaden the analytic tools identifying prevalence among a large, geographically concentrated population, such as residents on campus,” the email sent to residents read.

The program is primarily used as a tool for detecting the virus among large populations. Even if the results are positive, residents are not necessarily required to quarantine themselves until individual testing and clinical diagnosis are done, according to the email. However, based on the pilot program, new protocols for screening, testing, and isolation/quarantine may be developed for residents in USC Housing.

USC also made it clear in the email that the program is mandatory for the residents. The university emphasized that samples will only be tested for COVID-19 and that, since the wastewater does not reveal any information about particular individuals or rooms, resident’s privacy is not at risk.

While USC reinforced the importance of this type of testing, they also recognized that “positive results may be due to individuals who have recovered from COVID-19, are still shedding virus particles, but are no longer infectious.” As long as residents follow the standard safety precautions, the positive results in the building do not necessarily indicate an increased risk, the email suggested.

This program is the newest addition to the USC COVID-19 testing procedures. Earlier this year, the university announced testing for symptomatic and exposed individuals at the Engemann Plaza. USC has also partnered with the company Color to provide testing kits for asymptomatic individuals.

Overall testing numbers are released every Wednesday by the university. As of this briefing, USC has seen 28 positive results from the last testing period (09/20-09/26).