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NUS UTown hostel residents to take COVID-19 test after viral material found in wastewater sample

NUS UTown hostel residents to take COVID-19 test after viral material found in wastewater sample

File photo of University Town at the National University of Singapore (NUS). (Photo: Alif Amsyar)

SINGAPORE: Residents of a hostel block at the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Utown will undergo a COVID-19 swab test, after viral material was detected in a wastewater sample. 

Low levels of COVID-19 viral ribonucleic acid, or RNA, were detected in the wastewater sample collected from the bathrooms at UTown Residence North Tower on Mar 20, said NUS in a circular on Monday (Mar 22). 

All residents in the affected apartments will need to undergo a COVID-19 swab test, said Dr Peck Thian Guan, senior director for the office of safety, health and environment. 

“The swab test has to be performed swiftly to identify whether there are other residents who may be and/or had been infected with COVID-19. This is so that we can provide immediate medical care and support, while taking the necessary steps to cut the transmission of COVID-19,” he added. 

Authorities will be setting up swabbing stations at UTown residence on Tuesday, and all affected residents must self-isolate and minimise physical contact with others until their swab test results are confirmed as negative, said Dr Peck. 

UTown Residence is a hostel for single and married graduate students, and can house up to 1,700 residents. 

In wastewater testing, samples of wastewater are collected from manholes, and the entire process can take between 30 mins to three hours. 

Samples are then processed in the laboratory, and testing is conducted to detect whether SARS-CoV-2 material is present in the wastewater. SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that causes COVID-19. 

NUS has implemented the wastewater surveillance programme for all hostels since December 2020, it said in the circular. 

READ: From manhole to sampling bottle: How wastewater helps indicate presence of COVID-19 in foreign worker dormitories

According to the National Environment Agency, PUB and the Home Team Science and Technology Agency, the amount of viral material in wastewater from a community could reveal the level of COVID-19 spread there. This can then trigger the necessary response plans and mitigation actions, such as individual testing and isolation.

For example, the absence of SARS-CoV-2 material in the wastewater provides the added assurance that the community being tested remains free from infection. 

But if viral material was detected, more swab tests will be performed. 

The results of the swab tests will take about two to three days, said Dr Peck. 

During this time, staff members and students should not visit or enter the affected block in the hostel, avoid the swabbing stations, monitor their health and declare their temperature via the NUS online portal, he added. 

Urging those who are unwell to see a doctor immediately, Dr Peck also asked students and staff members to comply with safe management measures like activating TraceTogetther and the NUSafe app. 

“Meanwhile, please remain calm, comply with the precautionary measures outlined above, and do not spread unverified information. We will update again on the outcome of the swab test exercise in due course,” he said.

Source: CNA/hw(ta)

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