City, UC Davis successfully develop project to pinpoint presence of coronavirus in classrooms

Local News

DAVIS, Calif. (KTXL) — A novel effort to pinpoint the presence of the COVID-19 virus in classrooms has yielded results in Davis.

The test project was spearheaded by Healthy Davis Together, a collaboration between the city of Davis and the University of California, Davis.

When school districts began planning to reopen for in-person learning, one of the first considerations was upgrading heating and air conditioning units that included filters that could screen out the coronavirus. Some even brought in portable air filtration units to individual classrooms.

Healthy Davis Together went a step further by testing air filters for the presence of the virus.

A few days into the pilot project, the virus was detected in an air filter placed in a classroom at Korematsu Elementary School in Davis. The school district has recommended that students and school staff using the space be tested to further identify the source.

Ideally, everyone would get tested every day and get results instantly, but that is not possible.

“Because we don’t have that capacity, having an air filter monitoring that space is a great way to monitor infection or the possibility of infection,” said Dr. Sheri Belafsky, with UC Davis’ Medical Surveillance Program.

UC Davis used its medical, research and engineering capabilities to develop and implement a reliable saliva test for the virus, one that is being used every day at test sites.

If the filtration testing is found to be accurate, it could mean everyone who uses a space may not need to be tested, but the technology is new.

“Eventually, we would like to get to a place where we have enough data about air filtering monitoring to be able to say that it can serve as a surrogate,” Dr. Belafsky said.

Healthy Davis Together early on began testing wastewater and sewage from the UC Davis campus to determine infection rates. It then expanded the sewage testing into the city, seeking to quantify infections within neighborhoods.

The virus monitoring strategies can serve as an early warning system to let people know when they should get tested to prevent the virus from spreading.

“It sounds an alarm for us and it pushes us into action and to test all the individuals in that classroom or to notify people in that neighborhood,” Belafsky explained.

Healthy Davis Together is using multiple tools to stem the pandemic, including mass testing and distributing vaccines to those who live in and around Davis and Yolo County.

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