Study that tracked COVID-19 in sewers found effective

Bella Nieto, News Editor

Launched in June 2020, the UTSA led pilot program designed to test wastewater for SARS-CoC-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, was able to track the virus in sewers effectively helping health officials track the viruses spread within the UTSA community. 


Samples, containing feces, bodily fluids, etc., were gathered weekly from the San Antonio River Authority’s Salitrillo Wastewater Treatment Plant which services the majority of Bexar County. Samples are then tested to not only detect the presence of SARS-CoV2, but also to measure the amount in the samplings. The virus is measured by detecting the genes unique to SARS-CoV2,  N1 and N2 nucleocapsid genes. From there the genes are measured by examining the number of gene copies per liter of wastewater. 


As the study progressed, increased traces were found after the Fourth of July and then after Thanksgiving break. Such trends are likely due to large celebrations in lieu of the holidays. The increased traces found in the samples correlated with the rising cases in San Antonio that followed the holidays. 


Led in tandem by Vikram Kapoor, an assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Ph.D. student Haya Al-Duroobi and other graduate students are seeking more funding to continue the program. Currently, samples are being processed from winter break and will be ready later this month.    


“We only collected samples from a small portion of the area, and we are ready to apply our technology in other parts of San Antonio, especially to the disadvantaged communities that, for a variety of reasons, don’t get tested at the same levels as the rest of the population. This would be an effective, non-invasive method to monitor COVID spikes and then follow up with awareness messaging on proper precautions to prevent further spread,” said Al-Duroobi.