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Ohio State Tracking COVID-19 In Campus Buildings Through Dust Samples

 Dust samples for the study.
Kevin Satterfield
Ohio State University
Dust samples for the study.

A study at Ohio State University is tracking COVID-19 in 50 campus buildings through the collection of dust samples.

The study was launched this week at the start of the fall semester and is based on previous research that showed genetic material from the coronavirus can exist up to a month in dust.

But there's no need to worry about catching COVID. Senior researcher on the study Karen Dannemiller said the virus material residing in the dust is not infectious, because it's leftover material, also known as RNA.

Dannemiller, who's also an associate professor of civil, environmental and geodetic engineering and environmental health sciences, said the researchers are collecting the dust in conjunction with the Ohio State's residential life and custodial staff.

"We are asking them for their vacuum bags after they're done, we're asking them not to change anything about how they're cleaning, they're doing everything the same," she said. "The only difference is when they're done, they take the bag of dust they've collected, instead of throwing it away, they put it in a bag for us for us to collect."

The research will hopefully give the university another way to track where COVID-19 has been on campus, Dannemiller said.

"It's really important to integrate what we're doing with all the other efforts that are going on to monitor for COVID-19 and make sure we know what is going on on-campus," she said. "So really, we're just excited to be able to provide that additional tool for everybody to be monitoring for COVID-19."

Dannemiller said the researchers will be sharing the results with the university on an ongoing basis.

But more importantly, Dannemiller said she hopes that their research will make a difference for the university in the long term, especially if there are other viral outbreaks in the future.

"Any particular areas where you have a building of people that you especially want to know if you have any infection showing up, you could use this tool to monitor for that in the future," she said.

Michael Lee joined WOSU in 2021, but was previously an intern at the station in 2018. He is a graduate from Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism where he obtained his master's degree, and an alumnus of Ohio State University. Michael has previously worked as an intern at the Columbus Dispatch and most recently, the Chicago Sun-Times.