/ Campus Health

Wastewater Testing

Researchers at Hope College have developed a testing strategy that allows for broad surveillance of virus levels in the campus population.

Hope’s testing strategy enables detection of SARSCoV-2 genetic material (RNA) in wastewater coming from different zones on campus and also at the wastewater treatment plant for Holland and communities served by Holland BPW.

Our strategy focuses on the wastewater coming from residential units on campus (dormitories, cottages and apartments) that are divided into nine Residential Zones. Each zone is tested daily, with results being returned to the testing team within 24 hours. This will allow for real time monitoring of viral levels on campus and may allow the college to distinguish which residential zones have residents with active cases of the virus.

Two Hope College alumni researchers testing wastewaterBy taking action early, Hope College has positioned itself at the forefront of surveillance testing approaches for SARS-CoV-2 (and potentially new threats as they emerge) in subsequent semesters. These approaches allow the college to use an overall testing strategy that is less costly and allow the college to remain open for in-person activities as the pandemic continues to unfold. 

How the testing works

Each morning, a team visits nine different sites on campus where samples are collected from autosamplers placed inside sewer lines or on the ground next to sewer access points. Each sample represents the previous 24 hours of wastewater flowing from a zone; the autosamplers collect small samples, every 20 minutes over the course of the 24-hour period.

Samples are returned to the laboratory in Schaap Science Center, where they are processed for analysis. The processing includes extraction of genetic material from the samples. If SARS-CoV-2 is present in the sample, its genetic material will be part of the purified RNA from the sample.

Purified RNA from each sample is then used in a test to specifically detect SARSCoV-2 genetic material. Hope is using a quantitative PCR (qPCR) approach that is used for all PCR based testing — essentially, researchers are targeting the same specific genetic material that is used for testing of individuals. For example, the saliva-based test that was used to pre-screen all students and employees prior to the start of the semester is very similar in the way it detects the virus; the difference here is that instead of testing saliva, Hope is testing wastewater. 

Residential Zones

The campus has been divided into nine zones representing residents of:

  • Dykstra Hall
  • Phelps and Gilmore Halls
  • Cook Hall (not including Haworth)
  • Durfee and Voorhees Halls
  • Kollen East and West Halls
  • Lichty and Scott Halls and Cottages on 13th between Columbia and College
  • Wyckoff Hall and Cottages on 13th between Columbia and College
  • College East Apartments
  • Cottages and Apartments on 14th between Columbia and College

On average, each zone represents between 200–250 students. 

Other Colleges and Universities

Other universities are also employing a wastewater monitoring approach. These include major R1 universities, such as UCSD, UC Berkeley, Notre Dame and others. Hope College is not aware of any other small, liberal arts colleges like Hope that are doing this type of monitoring in the same way; in many cases, these smaller colleges are outsourcing the process. Hope was poised to develop this strategy quickly by leveraging its traditional strength in undergraduate research to enable the rapid development and deployment of this approach with internal experts.

How the Information is Used

Hope is taking daily samples that represent wastewater flowing from Sunday morning through Friday morning, for five days of testing each week.

Researchers are able to calculate the amount of SARS-CoV-2 genetic material per volume of wastewater. Hope will generate this information for nine different zones on campus and for the north and south sides of the City of Holland and associated townships served by the Holland BPW wastewater treatment plant.

The team is producing information about running averages of the level of the virus over time (for example, three-day running averages) that can be used to understand baseline levels of virus being detected and deviations from the baseline. In effect, they will be able to recognize if increases in the amount of virus in wastewater are occurring. This information will be for each zone on campus. If the running average for a zone or zones increases, the college will target additional asymptomatic surveillance testing of residents in the affected zones.

Sharing the Information
Hope College’s testing team is coordinating the public sharing of information, including sharing wastewater treatment plant sample information with Holland BPW. 
The Testing Team

The testing team includes:

Professors

  • Aaron Best, PI (biology)
  • Michael Pikaart (chemistry)
  • Brent Krueger (chemistry)
  • Ben Kopek (biology)

Laboratory Staff

  • Randall Wade (alumnus, GES and biology)
  • Adam Slater (alumus, GES and biology)

Laboratory Post-Baccalaureate Staff

  • Amy Olgers (GES alumna, May 2020)
  • Daniel Wade (GES alumnus, May 2020)
Other Partners

Hope College is partnering with Holland BPW and Trident Laboratories.

Holland BPW has provided training and some materials for sampling, and they are providing daily samples from the wastewater treatment plant.

Trident Laboratories is a high complexity CLIA laboratory owned by Matthew Rycenga, and alumnus from the early 2000s. Hope is working with Trident to optimize the qPCR test and they are running daily qPCR tests on the samples we provide.

The testing team is also partnering closely with Physical Plant staff.