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UNLV students leading expanded COVID early warning system

Waste Water Testing
Posted at 10:05 PM, Jul 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-22 17:58:53-04

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — The University of Nevada Las Vegas's coronavirus early warning system has grown substantially since its inception in 2020 as students began working as many as seven days a week gathering, processing, and sequencing sewage samples from across Southern Nevada in search of new COVID variants.

The program, with the help of research technicians Hayley Baker and Nabih Ghani, has helped determine where viruses have clustered in the valley so other organizations like the Southern Nevada Health District can direct resources as a response.

"Nabih and I both want to go to medical school so it's kind of cool to thinking about how what we're doing could impact the medical field," Baker said.

Associate Professor Dr. Edwin Oh has overseen the project since its beginning and said he often preps students in advance of the workload facing them as they help save lives.

"It's a tough conversation I have with the folks in this lab," he said. "This is a 7 days a week job. Sometimes it feels like 8 days a week.."

Oh said the work has become more critical with time.

He said as clinical testing for the coronavirus became less frequent waste water testing has been identifying new variants further and further in advance of the first confirmed cases.

"Whatever we find in the waste water eventually shows up in human infections," Oh said.

Oh said the project hasn't been focusing solely on the coronavirus.

As the SNHD began announcing confirmed and probable cases of monkeypox in Clark County, Oh said his team began sequencing viruses in the same family to determine how much of the virus exists and where.

Oh said it would take more time to get that data out to the public.