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As children, teachers, and staff members return to school and child care, we want to make sure that COVID-19 does not spread. While school and childcare facilities remain proactive in efforts to keep everyone safe from COVID-19 with the use of masks, sanitization, and hand washing, the UC San Diego Wertheim School of Public Health is working on additional safety strategies: testing wastewater and surfaces for the presence of particles from the COVID-19 virus. The Safer at School Early Alert System (SASEA) is a COVID-19 wastewater detection pilot program for K-12 schools and daycares. 

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Overview of SASEA

People who are infected with COVID-19 may not feel sick or exhibit symptoms, but studies show that people without symptoms can still spread the virus. COVID-19 research indicates that pieces of the virus can be detected in human feces as well as on surfaces. By taking samples of wastewater from the sewer and collecting swabs from commonly touched surfaces each day, we hope to be able to discover quickly if someone in the facility is sick with COVID-19. Through testing, infected individuals (and those who have been in close contact with them) can be identified and quarantined to prevent infections from spreading widely.

As part of validating an early alert monitoring system, we will offer free weekly diagnostic testing to all children and staff on campus through December. We will compare these weekly tests to wastewater samples and surface swabs from your school site, and use this data to check the accuracy of these monitoring systems. With your help, we hope to develop an anonymous, low-cost monitoring system that can be used at schools and child cares across San Diego County and the nation.

What Will Happen During the SASEA Pilot Program?

Wastewater Monitoring
A robot will take hourly samples from the wastewater at your facility, and UCSD personnel will collect and test the samples daily for the presence of the COVID-19 virus.

Surface Monitoring
Each day, before rooms are sanitized, school personnel will swipe commonly touched surfaces (such as doorknobs and countertops), and UCSD personnel will collect and test the samples daily for the presence of the COVID-19 virus.

Diaper Monitoring
At child care facilities, diapers with feces will be collected once per week and tested for the presence of the COVID-19 virus.

COVID-19 Testing
Consenting children and staff will be tested at your school/child care by UCSD for the COVID-19 virus through a gentle swab of the lower part of the nostril or a saliva sample. This testing will occur weekly through 2020, then only as needed in early 2021.

Surveys & Focus Groups
You will be invited to participate in surveys and discussion groups to provide additional information and perspectives on COVID safety.

Community Leadership
The study will be guided by community advisory boards with parent and staff representatives from participating sites.

Privacy Protection
All information collected will be rigorously protected following all research, health, and school information privacy standards. No DNA analysis will be conducted. Samples will only be tested for the presence of COVID RNA/particles.

What is the Timeline?


How Can I Learn More?


  • For questions and comments at any time, contact the SASEA team:

  • We are also available to present at parent and staff meetings. If interested, please contact to make arrangements.