TRACE-OSU to support health and safety with in-person, wastewater SARS-CoV-2 testing

Oregon State University will extend its ongoing TRACE-COVID-19 project to support safer and healthier environments for its students, faculty and staff by providing weekly prevalence testing during fall term on OSU’s campuses in Corvallis and Bend. Prevalence testing also will occur at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.

TRACE-OSU will launch Sept. 28 and will include weekly random prevalence testing of approximately 1,000 OSU community members. Wastewater sampling will take place at Oregon State’s campuses in Corvallis and Bend and at HMSC. OSU researchers also will continue wastewater testing in the Corvallis, Bend and Newport communities twice a week.

The testing will help determine the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, and the data collected will inform planning and response by university leaders and county health officials. Weekly prevalence results will be posted on the OSU TRACE website beginning the week of Oct. 5.

“Weekly prevalence testing within OSU campuses in Corvallis and Bend and at HMSC are among the many ways that Oregon State University is contributing to a safer and healthier university community and communities in Corvallis, Bend and Newport,” said Steve Clark, vice president for university relations and marketing. “TRACE-OSU will provide invaluable public health information. Weekly prevalence results should inform OSU students and employees, and community members, to either continue or increase their own personal and public health measures to reduce the risk and spread of COVID-19.”

“The number of people who are infected in a population provides a leading indicator of how fast the number of cases will grow if not contained,” said Benjamin Dalziel, TRACE director and assistant professor in the College of Science. “Knowing prevalence helps determine what types of public health measures are required at a particular time.”

With TRACE-OSU, being tested for the novel coronavirus is voluntary but encouraged by the university. All current students, faculty and staff residing in the Corvallis, Bend and Newport areas are invited to register for possible testing by enrolling here.

Dalziel said that each week during fall term a representative group of students, faculty and staff will be selected at random from the registration pool and invited to be tested at an on-campus station. Two testing locations will be available on the Corvallis campus: Reser Stadium and the Community Plaza between Johnson Hall and the Kelley Engineering Center. There will also be two testing locations at the Hatfield Marine Science Center and one at OSU-Cascades in Bend.

Under the guidance of TRACE staff, participants will provide a self-administered nasal swab to be analyzed with an FDA-approved test. Sampling will occur continuously during fall term and through the entire academic year if merited by public health conditions.

The tests used in TRACE-COVID-19 collect material from the entrance of the nose and are more comfortable and less invasive than the tests that collect secretions from the throat and the back of the nose. The time from check-in at the testing stations to departure likely will be 10 minutes or less, Dalziel said.

Participants will be sent their results by secure email. Everyone’s personal information is safeguarded and not shared with anyone other than appropriate public health officials.

Because participants are randomly chosen each week, it is possible that some OSU students and employees may be selected more than once during fall term. It is also possible, though unlikely, that someone who registers for testing may not be selected.

“All testing locations will be arranged to maximize participant safety through social distancing, airflow and the number of sampling stations available,” said TRACE project co-leader Jeff Bethel, associate professor in the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences.

For the wastewater part of TRACE-OSU, led by Tyler Radniecki of the OSU College of Engineering, researchers will sample sewage from locations across the Corvallis campus weekly, with a particular focus on student housing, as well as sampling wastewater from locations at the Hatfield Marine Science Center and OSU-Cascades.

Samples taken from wastewater treatment plants in Corvallis, Bend and Newport will also be analyzed weekly during fall term. All samples will be analyzed for genetic evidence of the virus, and trends will be monitored to determine whether the viral signal in wastewater is getting stronger, weaker or staying the same.

If SARS-CoV-2 is detected downstream of any student housing facility, Oregon State may ask everyone in the facility to be individually tested. Results from the wastewater testing will be reported to county health departments and the Oregon Health Authority.

TRACE is a joint effort of OSU’s colleges of Science, Public Health and Human Sciences, Agricultural Sciences and the Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine, in partnership with county health departments. The project was initially funded by OSU and a grant from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, has been aided by work of the OSU Foundation and the OSU Alumni Association, and received subsequent funding from PacificSource Health Plans and the Oregon Health Authority. TRACE-OSU is being funded by the university.

The diagnostic testing component of TRACE operates through a partnership between the Oregon Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, which is located at OSU, and Willamette Valley Toxicology.

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