The school year is off to a “crappy” start for hundreds of students at Utah State University (USU). That’s because the university forced them to quarantine in their dorm rooms after a test of the sewage from four buildings found traces of the Covid-19 virus.
According to an online news story from Utah State Today, “Researchers are monitoring COVID-19 infection trends at [the university] by analyzing sewage samples taken from on-campus student housing facilities. The method shows promising results in detecting the SARS-CoV-2 virus and could lead to a standardized public health tool for tracking and minimizing infections.”
That isn’t sitting well with some students.
“As far as I know, I have not given the school any permission to test my pee or pooh,” declared a senior named Emily who asked that we not use her last name. “I guess it’s kind of cool they have the technology to do this. I know they are just trying to prevent a [Covid] outbreak. But I am concerned they could start testing for drugs without my knowledge or consent.”
Wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) is not a new science (used in the eradication of poliovirus for example), but the recent development of SARS-CoV-2 and the Covid-19 has brought the value of WBE into sharp focus.Universities across the country, including the University of Colorado-Boulder, the University of Arizona, the University of California-San Diego and Syracuse University are now testing dorm wastewater in an attempt to prevent Covid outbreaks.
While this may just be a stinky situation for some, others see a potential violation of constitutional rights.
“I think we need to get to the bottom of this,” said Rick Manning, President of Americans for Limited Government. “This seems like a gross violation of a student’s most personal rights. Maybe they should change Miranda to say, ‘Nothing you flush can be used against you in a court of law.’”
Scientists are already able to test for drugs in wastewater. Two years ago, scientists at the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife found that mussels in Seattle’s waters were testing positive for opioids. The finding suggests “a lot of people” are taking oxycodone in the Puget Sound, researchers told a local television news crew.
“This stinks to high heaven,” added Manning. “People have a right to privacy and this feels like a huge violation.”
Some parents of USU students are venting their anger in private Facebook groups. One such group, which describes itself as “a coalition of small business owners committed to getting Utah back to work and promoting a brighter future,” has posts like these reacting to the wastewater testing:
“Is this really happening right now! I feel so strongly that we are being tested to see how far we will let this go until we push back!! Is anyone waking up yet!?”
“How desperate do you have to be to keep the lie going? I have no words for what our state has turned into. I am truly speechless.”
Emily said Covid and all the testing has turned the campus into a “sterile, unfriendly environment.”
“It’s a little too much of Big Brother for me,” she added. “I feel like I am always being watched now.”
She said masks are required both inside and outside of buildings, and on very little notice, facilities like the gym and dorm rooms are shut down. “Nothing feels welcoming about this at all. It’s almost like the school doesn’t want us here.”
Catherine Mortensen is the Vice President of Communications at Americans for Limited Government.
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