Multimodal surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 at a university enables development of a robust outbreak response framework

Med. 2022 Dec 9;3(12):883-900.e13. doi: 10.1016/j.medj.2022.09.003. Epub 2022 Sep 19.


Background: Universities are vulnerable to infectious disease outbreaks, making them ideal environments to study transmission dynamics and evaluate mitigation and surveillance measures. Here, we analyze multimodal COVID-19-associated data collected during the 2020-2021 academic year at Colorado Mesa University and introduce a SARS-CoV-2 surveillance and response framework.

Methods: We analyzed epidemiological and sociobehavioral data (demographics, contact tracing, and WiFi-based co-location data) alongside pathogen surveillance data (wastewater and diagnostic testing, and viral genomic sequencing of wastewater and clinical specimens) to characterize outbreak dynamics and inform policy. We applied relative risk, multiple linear regression, and social network assortativity to identify attributes or behaviors associated with contracting SARS-CoV-2. To characterize SARS-CoV-2 transmission, we used viral sequencing, phylogenomic tools, and functional assays.

Findings: Athletes, particularly those on high-contact teams, had the highest risk of testing positive. On average, individuals who tested positive had more contacts and longer interaction durations than individuals who never tested positive. The distribution of contacts per individual was overdispersed, although not as overdispersed as the distribution of phylogenomic descendants. Corroboration via technical replicates was essential for identification of wastewater mutations.

Conclusions: Based on our findings, we formulate a framework that combines tools into an integrated disease surveillance program that can be implemented in other congregate settings with limited resources.

Funding: This work was supported by the National Science Foundation, the Hertz Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Massachusetts Consortium on Pathogen Readiness, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Flu Lab, and the Audacious Project.

Keywords: Foundational research; SARS-CoV-2; genomic epidemiology; lineage characterization; multimodal surveillance; risk identification and mitigation; social network analysis; university outbreak response; viral genomic sequencing; wastewater sequencing methods; wastewater surveillance.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Contact Tracing
  • Disease Outbreaks
  • Humans
  • SARS-CoV-2* / genetics
  • United States
  • Universities