An Invasion of Privacy or Refuge for Immunity?

By: Shannon Francolini, Managing & News Editor

Plymouth State University, similar to many other universities all around the globe, have suffered far too long from the COVID-19 pandemic. Out of desperation for safety, universities all around the United States are beginning to take whatever action absolutely necessary to keep their students and faculty in prime health. Specifically, at Michigan Technological University and University of Arizona, university officials are researching the option of tracing the COVID-19 virus through human waste. As ridiculous as this may sound, for some it is a last resort to preventing not only initial but further spread of the virus.

Recent research studies through Michigan Tech have found that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is still present in fecal waste, as it does not dissolve out of the human gastrointestinal tract and remains live in human feces. One of the struggles these researchers ultimately faced, is whether or not the virus would continue to contaminate further, affecting plant life or soil that it may be re-exposed to. The domestic sewage in a wastewater treatment facility, also known as biosolids, are of advantage to various resources to improve the quality of our environment. In certain scientific research, biosolids are dissected to understand the disease-causing organisms they contain and how they would affect our environment. These wastewater tests taking place are surprisingly similar to the clinical tests being provided here on Plymouth States’ campus.

Yet the most interesting fact out of all this research is how “a positive wastewater test could be used by municipal wastewater managers as an early monitoring tool in communities that have not yet seen other evidence of the virus” says Kelley Christensen of MTU (2020, Christensen). The reason this information is so critical is due to the fact that one student carrying the virus could be asymptomatic, yet still test positive through these wastewater testing systems.

Even the University of Arizona was able to track down two students who were asymptomatic, yet tested positive via wastewater testing, and were able to isolate before they further infected their community. The most constructive detail about the difficult process of wastewater treatment testing are the accuracy of results that will help save these universities and their living communities. One study from the University of Arizona reveals how the “presence of COVID-19 can be detected from sewage upto 7 days before infected students exhibit symptoms of disease”, Dr. Pepper, an environmental biologist at University of Arizona’s Water & Energy Sustainability Technology Center said (2020,

This new information is crucial to the incline in improvement for a solution to all this madness. Wastewater treatment testing is probably one of the most unpleasant ways to detect the virus, yet also one of the earliest and safest possibilities to a better semester for all students. Sometimes the hardest topics to speak upon are of the utmost importance to the community. We are all human and trying to navigate through this pandemic together. This time in life is a turmoil pit for our generation. We are experiencing some firsts and praying for some lasts. It is not easy, but nothing worth having usually comes to us first hand. If we continue to take the precautions most necessary and comply with the CDC’s suggestions for our health, we have a lot of upgradesand developments to look forward to. As unfortunate as it is to live through a time like this, there are better days promised ahead. We need to work together to create a better environment and to continue to sustain it.