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How testing sewage could help slow the spread of COVID-19 – WMUR Manchester

All across the country, counties, colleges and other communities are now testing sewage to monitor the spread of the novel coronavirus. According to experts, COVID-19 can show up in wastewater about a week before people even show symptoms. “Just think of it as, this is a community-wide urine and fecal test,” said Craig Johnson. Craig Johnson’s company Clipper Controls supplies organizations with automatic water samplers, a tool that can be used to detect COVID in wastewater. The device is dropped into a manhole and collects sewage samples. Recently, Johnson said demand for the device has greatly increased. “It’s the canary in the coal mine,” he said. “It’s the early warning detection before there’s anybody that has symptoms. You don’t have to go and swab everybody and force testing because you’ll know if the community has it.”Johnson is one of the vendors that has provided equipment to the Sacramento Area Sewer District. The sewer system covers the majority of Sacramento County and serves 1.4 million customers. The sewer district started sewage surveillance in April. “We’re just hoping to contribute to the overall picture and have a better understanding of this virus,” said Christoph Dobson. Dobson is the district’s Director of Policy and Planning. He said by testing wastewater, they were able to detect the county’s recent rise in COVID cases about a week before the public health department issued their data. “Everybody has to go to the bathroom. So we’re getting information from people that may not have any symptoms or even know that they are sick,” he said. “It can tell you whether the trend is going up, going down, flattening out. So it gives you an idea of the overall community.”UC Davis is also testing sewage for COVID-19. “People can shed viruses in their feces in addition to through respiratory droplets,” said Heather Bischel.Bischel is the head of the university’s wastewater screening project and an assistant professor in the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering. She said UC Davis placed their sampler devices in manholes outside 16 dormitories across campus so they can pinpoint exactly where an outbreak may occur. “We can link the data that we get out of that to the residence hall where we’ve taken the sample from,” said Bischel.So far, the university has not detected any outbreaks. Bischel said they took samples from the campus’ quarantine and isolation area to verify that the testing results are reliable. In addition to early detection, the university is relying on the wastewater screening program as backup testing. Right now, UC Davis already tests students who live on campus. “There may be some cases where somebody slips under the radar and then the sewer sampling is there to help complement that and provide a secondary backup to it,” Bischel said. Once the university becomes aware of positive cases, that enables them to move students to isolation and quarantine areas to slow the spread of the virus. The university started testing sewage in August before students moved back onto campus. Bischel said the program costs about $600,000, and thanks to money from donors and the university, is slated to last throughout the academic year. While COVID-19 can show up in sewage, according to UC Davis and the CDC, there is no data that shows anyone has become sick because of direct exposure to wastewater. Bischel added that after the samples are taken to the university’s lab, they are placed into a heat bath first before being analyzed to deactivate any potential live virus.Meanwhile, the CDC is developing a portal for health departments to submit a wastewater testing database to help interpret the public health information across the country.

All across the country, counties, colleges and other communities are now testing sewage to monitor the spread of the novel coronavirus. According to experts, COVID-19 can show up in wastewater about a week before people even show symptoms.

“Just think of it as, this is a community-wide urine and fecal test,” said Craig Johnson.

Craig Johnson’s company Clipper Controls supplies organizations with automatic water samplers, a tool that can be used to detect COVID in wastewater. The device is dropped into a manhole and collects sewage samples. Recently, Johnson said demand for the device has greatly increased.

“It’s the canary in the coal mine,” he said. “It’s the early warning detection before there’s anybody that has symptoms. You don’t have to go and swab everybody and force testing because you’ll know if the community has it.”

Johnson is one of the vendors that has provided equipment to the Sacramento Area Sewer District. The sewer system covers the majority of Sacramento County and serves 1.4 million customers. The sewer district started sewage surveillance in April.

“We’re just hoping to contribute to the overall picture and have a better understanding of this virus,” said Christoph Dobson.

Dobson is the district’s Director of Policy and Planning. He said by testing wastewater, they were able to detect the county’s recent rise in COVID cases about a week before the public health department issued their data.

“Everybody has to go to the bathroom. So we’re getting information from people that may not have any symptoms or even know that they are sick,” he said. “It can tell you whether the trend is going up, going down, flattening out. So it gives you an idea of the overall community.”

UC Davis is also testing sewage for COVID-19.

“People can shed viruses in their feces in addition to through respiratory droplets,” said Heather Bischel.

Bischel is the head of the university’s wastewater screening project and an assistant professor in the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering. She said UC Davis placed their sampler devices in manholes outside 16 dormitories across campus so they can pinpoint exactly where an outbreak may occur.

“We can link the data that we get out of that to the residence hall where we’ve taken the sample from,” said Bischel.

So far, the university has not detected any outbreaks. Bischel said they took samples from the campus’ quarantine and isolation area to verify that the testing results are reliable.

In addition to early detection, the university is relying on the wastewater screening program as backup testing. Right now, UC Davis already tests students who live on campus.

“There may be some cases where somebody slips under the radar and then the sewer sampling is there to help complement that and provide a secondary backup to it,” Bischel said.

Once the university becomes aware of positive cases, that enables them to move students to isolation and quarantine areas to slow the spread of the virus. The university started testing sewage in August before students moved back onto campus. Bischel said the program costs about $600,000, and thanks to money from donors and the university, is slated to last throughout the academic year.

While COVID-19 can show up in sewage, according to UC Davis and the CDC, there is no data that shows anyone has become sick because of direct exposure to wastewater. Bischel added that after the samples are taken to the university’s lab, they are placed into a heat bath first before being analyzed to deactivate any potential live virus.

Meanwhile, the CDC is developing a portal for health departments to submit a wastewater testing database to help interpret the public health information across the country.

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