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Possible coronavirus outbreak detected in CU Boulder wastewater

CU is one of multiple schools across Colorado monitoring COVID-19 through wastewater. This method could detect an outbreak before an infected person knows.

BOULDER, Colo. — The evidence was flushed right down the drain, and straight into a box on the other end of the pipe.

The University of Colorado Boulder (CU) reports that the school detected a possible outbreak of coronavirus in the wastewater collected from four residence halls.

Students in Darley North, Darley South, Libby Hall and Willard Hall were alerted to the possible outbreak on Wednesday and notified that they should be checked for COVID-19 if they have not already taken their mandated weekly test.

This CU campus is one of multiple across the state monitoring COVID-19 through wastewater. A team that tests the water said this method could detect an outbreak before an infected person even knows they have the disease.

"The earlier that we can detect an infection, it allows more diagnostic, more testing, more direct application of resources to find that individual," said Cresten Mansfeldt, an assistant professor of the Civil Environmental and Architectural Engineering Department in the Environmental Engineering program at CU. "What we do is we have passive collector systems across campus that slowly collects a very small volume over 24 hours."

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Samples do not point to any particular person, so they cannot be used for diagnosis. Rather, they can identify if COVID-19 is present in different parts of the campus.

Staff who work in the four affected buildings have been asked to take a test, as well.

Based on forthcoming results, plans for quarantining, isolation and contract tracing will be worked out with the public health department, the university said.

"The next few days will be critical to our ability to maintain our current operating status. It is imperative that we all continue to follow public health orders, avoid large gatherings, wear masks and practice physical distancing," Associate Vice Chancellor for Integrity Safety and Compliance Dan Jones wrote in a news release.

Jones added that 13 on-campus tests came back positive on Tuesday. All on-campus results must be confirmed with public health officials.

He also said two positive cases have been confirmed in a sorority house and one has been confirmed in a fraternity house. Jones did not identify either house but said the school will implement "appropriate containment measures" with guidance from Boulder County Public Health.

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