WINDSOR, ONT. -- The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit confirmed an asymptomatic case of COVID-19 at the University of Windsor’s Alumni Hall residence Monday following widespread testing of students Sunday morning.

The move came after daily wastewater screening from the building tested positive for the virus Saturday evening.

Students who live at the residence are now under a modified quarantine.

Students living at Alumni Hall got an email from the University of Windsor over the weekend.

“We just got an email telling us that they found COVID in the wastewater and we were all going to get tested,” said resident Laura Moir.

That’s because for the past two months, the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research (GLIER) has been doing wastewater surveillance on campus.

“Wastewater we consider to be a leading indicator,” said GLIER executive director Mike McKay. “When someone’s infected, pretty soon after they’re infected, they start shedding the virus, even before they might be presenting symptoms of COVID-19.”

The health unit releases GLIER’s wastewater data for Windsor-Essex every Friday.

Wastewater Data

Just last week a passive surveillance system was set up in this sewer, the only line out from Alumni Hall.

The results came back and medical officer of health Dr. Wajid Ahmed said “there was a variant of concern identified in that wastewater.”

Moir said she “was kind of scared.”

Another resident, Kylie Brock said “it was kind of shocking.”

Ahmed said it’s not an accurate measure, like a standard PCR test, but “if you’re finding this then there’s a connection so we are trying to make sure we do our due diligence looking for an active case investigation.”

The university was alerted over the weekend and very quickly, students were asked to enter a modified quarantine, to limit close contacts and avoid trips outside of residence until April 2.

“The university decided we need to be proactive about this, reached out to the health unit who brought in a mobile testing unit to offer testing to students,” said McKay.

That testing was undertaken on Sunday, with 160 students getting tested. Some got their results back the same day.

“They came door to door just testing us in the morning,” said Moir. “It makes us feel safe. Kind of nice.”

As a result of that testing blitz, a single asymptomatic case of COVID-19 was confirmed by the WECHU.

McKay of GLIER says they haven’t even had time to reflect on the data, but recognizes the benefits of his team’s research in providing an early alert system to halt further transmission.

“We’re in the middle of a pandemic and we need to act fast and we know from episode after episode, if we don’t act fast, if we don’t isolate infected individuals, we’re likely going to have a larger outbreak,” said McKay.

More testing of staff and students is expected to take place Monday and the modified quarantine remains in place at Alumni Hall.

The individual who tested positive has been relocated to the University’s isolation centre and is receiving support.