The Wheel publishes updates every Saturday about coronavirus spread within the Emory community, the University’s COVID-19 testing strategy and other related information. The Wheel also tracks on campus cases daily, which can be viewed on our homepage.

Wastewater testing

A Sept. 18 test for coronavirus particles in Clairmont Campus wastewater came back positive, indicating a potential case of COVID-19. No students at Clairmont have tested positive since this test however, Executive Director of Emory Student Health Services Sharon Rabinovitz said. 

Wastewater tests are not always conclusive, Rabinovitz said, and this form of test provides another opportunity to discover asymptomatic cases. The University has been testing wastewater at all residence halls for “for several weeks.” 

She noted that COVID-19 particles can appear in stool for an average of 22 days after contracting the virus.

Students residing in Clairmont’s Undergraduate Residential Center were notified via email on Sept. 20 of the COVID-positive wastewater and were told to visit the Emory COVID-19 Symptom Checker website. If they experienced any symptoms, students were asked to contact Student Health Services.  

The email stated that asymptomatic students that had not received a COVID-19 test between Sept. 16 and Sept. 18 should schedule a test for Sept. 21. 

“It is another tool in our arsenal to combat having cases on our campus … in addition to the weekly testing,” Rabinovitz said. “This is an additional safeguard to make sure that we’re capturing asymptomatic people.”

Emory’s contact tracing, explained

The Wheel spoke to Rabinovitz and Associate Professor in the Department of Epidemiology at Rollins School of Public Health Neel Gandhi about the University’s contact tracing process.

Gandhi likened contact tracing at Emory to a “bubble” system as seen in the restart of professional sports leagues, in which all community members are frequently tested and those who test positive and their close contacts are isolated.

“All positive cases for students are funneled through Student Health,” Rabinovitz said, which triggers the contact tracing process.

When a student tests positive, they are typically contacted by an Emory tracer within an hour for an interview on their activities over the past 48 hours.

Subsequently, the close contacts of the infected student will be notified through an emergency text  notification system and will be asked to receive an additional test. “That tends to happen within a day or two of us learning and interviewing the index case,” Gandhi said.

Although he did not know the specific number, Gandhi noted that the percent of close contacts of a positive case who also test positive is currently low. 

Student Health Services has around 50 employees trained to perform contact tracing, although the exact number of workers performing the contact tracing at any particular time fluctuates according to need. Due to an increase in cases over the past two weeks, more employees are being trained, according to Rabinovitz.

Preparing for winter, spring semester

While Gandhi and Rabinovitz did not know what the spring semester would look like Gandhi emphasized that a new complication that could arise this winter with the “co-occurrence of the flu epidemic.”

“We’re encouraging members of the Emory community, whether it’s students, faculty or staff, to all be vaccinated for the flu this year,” he said.

However, over the next few months, Gandhi believes cooling temperatures will encourage students to spend more time outside, given Atlanta’s moderate weather compared to cities in the north.

“I think spending time outdoors is one of our most important tools to prevent transmission of the coronavirus,” he said.

The latest cases

Emory reported nine new cases since last week’s update, seven of which were students living off campus. The other two were staff members: one at the Emory Student Center and one at Emory University Hospital. These cases bring the total to 47 identified cases since Aug. 22.