NDSU testing wastewater to track coronavirus

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FARGO — North Dakota State University implements a new technique to track potential coronavirus cases on campus, and the city of Fargo will soon follow suit: What goes in your toilet could soon be used to help track coronavirus cases in our community.

This is not the traditional nasal or throat swab coronavirus test. NDSU partners with the North Dakota Department of Health to use dorm wastewater to track cases.

Not all students think it's a great idea.

"There's just no point in it, it's a waste of resources it's a waste of money," said Brooke Kinnischtzke, a freshman attending NDSU. "You can put in that much more money for a vaccine."

All of the water students flush eventually goes to the wastewater treatment plant in North Fargo. Technicians pick up the samples and bring them to labs on campus so they can test them for COVID-19.


Workers installed machines under manhole covers to collect samples every hour. An NDSU microbiologist and environmental engineer work together to test the samples. In some of their first tests, COVID-19 turned up in the water.

"When we did find positives we let the residents of the residence hall know that it had been found in the water," said Mike Borr, University Police and Safety director.

Mark Miller, Wastewater Treatment Center superintendent, said the idea to test this wastewater for COVID-19 came from other cities. They have been testing wastewater for drugs and illicit substances.

"The idea is that you can identify areas that need more resources before they start testing at the clinical level," Miller explained.

University officials began the wastewater testing strategy just a few weeks ago. The City of Fargo now has funding to expand this testing method in different areas of the city.

The wastewater testing method is being used in residence halls across the country, including the University of Minnesota Twin Cities and Duluth Campus.

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