The Menlo Park City School District has started a pilot program to test air and wastewater samples for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 virus, the virus that causes COVID-19, the district has announced.
From May 9 through the end of the school year on June 10, the district is taking samples at two campuses, Laurel School Lower Campus and Hillview Middle School. The air sampling is in partnership with Concentric by Ginkgo, the biosecurity and public health arm of Ginkgo Bioworks, Inc. The company is also monitoring wastewater at the two school campuses, the district said in a statement.
The pilot program is researching the extent of detection of the virus in indoor air at an elementary or middle school by comparing the virus concentration in collected samples to the results of the schools' regularly pooled testing and follow-up sampling and the ongoing wastewater data.
"As we move towards an endemic phase of COVID-19, passive monitoring of air and wastewater can offer long-term solutions for helping communities and public health officials get ahead of the next new variant or novel pathogen. Being able to compare data from routine testing, wastewater monitoring, and air monitoring is especially valuable to help understand how these different methods can complement each other and how they could best be used in a comprehensive infectious disease mitigation strategy," said Renee Wegrzyn, head of innovation at Concentric by Ginkgo.
The results will help the district make decisions that can best protect students, teachers and staff in the coming school years, the district said.
The district joined with Stanford University, Concentric by Ginkgo and Dysert Environmental in April to monitor wastewater at the two schools to determine the value of SARS-CoV-2 wastewater monitoring in K-12 schools that are already conducting routine asymptomatic pooled clinical testing. The district conducts weekly pooled testing, with follow-up individual testing for positive pools; 100% of staff and 88% of students participate in this testing program, which is planned to continue through the end of the school year, the district said.
The wastewater testing began on April 12 and is to run for eight weeks. The samples are being taken by Dysert Environmental, processed by Stanford, and the extracted RNA, a genetic segment of the virus, is being sequenced by Concentric to determine the virus's genetic lineage.
The program seeks to determine to what extent the virus can be detected in wastewater from an elementary or middle school and, like the air sampling, it will compare the virus concentration in collected samples to the results of the schools' regular pooled and follow-up testing.
"Throughout the pandemic, MPCSD has been interested in contributing to scientific knowledge about the virus and its impact on schools. The district has contributed data about its case numbers and safety protocols, which have helped schools across the country confidently reopen. When approached by Concentric to participate in this wastewater project, MPCSD was happy to help," the district said.
Wegrzyn said that routine monitoring for COVID-19 is like building a weather map for infectious disease in the community.
"Wastewater monitoring, in particular, is a promising method to help equip schools and public health leaders with critical data to prepare for potential future outbreaks. Partnerships like this one are so important to help advance innovative solutions for infectious disease management, and we are proud to work with Menlo Park City School District and Stanford University on this effort," she said.
District school leaders will receive weekly reports about the program's findings and the rest of both studies will be published.