Utah State University in Logan, Utah.

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LOGAN, Utah — One day before the fall semester begins at Utah State University, the COVID-19 pandemic has generated a crisis with high levels of the virus detected in the sewage of four dorms and the university announcing a quarantine of students in those facilities.

Cases remain relatively low at Idaho State University’s Pocatello campus, where 36 students and faculty members had tested positive between July 8 and Monday afternoon.

USU school officials issued a campus-wide safety alert Sunday notifying the USU community of the action.

“Wastewater testing provides an early alert warning for the university to address potential cases and prevent the spread of the virus further,” the alert stated. “… USU is working with the Utah Department of Health and the Bear River Health Department to organize testing for all 287 students who live in these residence halls to be done today and tomorrow.”

The alert went on to state that students at the affected dorms must quarantine immediately from now until test results are returned, which may take up to three to four days. The students are being told to stay in their rooms or suites and not attend class or interact with those outside their household.

The affected dorms are Rich, Jones, Morgan and Davis, all on the north side of campus in vicinity of 12th East and 10th North. The school planned to provide food deliveries to the dorms Sunday night and presumably as test results are awaited.

“Faculty will work with those students who are affected by this quarantine as fall semester begins,” the alert stated. “The Provost’s office will provide further guidance for faculty members in making accommodations for students.”

The testing of sewage for COVID-19 levels is a new process developed and tested in Logan, Hyrum and a handful of other Utah communities this spring. After early results showed the effectiveness of sewage testing, the Utah Division of Water Quality expanded the testing statewide, and a separate procedure was developed for the USU campus by collaborating biological engineering professor Keith Roper.