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Syracuse University and the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry are planning to routinely test sewage leaving residence halls to look for signs of the novel coronavirus before students become sick with COVID-19, reports The University of California, San Diego, also has announced plans to test wastewater on campus.

If testing finds a sudden spike in the sewage, Syracuse said, the university can test students in that residence hall for a potential outbreak. And the wastewater monitoring can help identify people with mild symptoms or who are asymptomatic.

“It will be an early warning system,” David Larsen, a professor of public health at Syracuse who is leading the project, told the newspaper. “We could see changes in the signal in the wastewater a week before we see a signal in the health-care system.”