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Wastewater Flows Can Predict COVID-19 Spread

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by Patrick Paul

As we reported previously, researchers at Arizona State University in Tempe have been evaluating the possible link between wastewater and the spread of the coronavirus in local communities.  Similar research is also being conducted in Northern Arizona and throughout the world.

More particularly Crystal Hepp, an assistant professor at the Northern Arizona University (NAU) (SICCS), is testing wastewater in northern Arizona communities to evaluate the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.  Because the virus is shed in human waste, sewage may be a viable avenue for its detection.  The NAU team is testing influent (untreated) and effluent (treated) samples weekly at six locations in Flagstaff, Munds Park, Kachina Village and Kayenta, which is located within the Navajo Nation.  To date, the team has not found any positive cases in effluent, indicating the wastewater plant process is effective in treating the virus.  The researchers will conduct genetic sequencing analysis on positive samples in influent to evaluate different strains.

Across the globe, scientists are looking for alternate methods to boost testing in order to predict the spread of the disease.  Researchers from Yale University and the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station analyzed solid waste from the East Shore Water Pollution Abatement Facility between March 19 and May 1 and found the amount of coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, correlated with testing totals and hospitalizations.  In fact, it appears to be a seven day leading indicator with the amount of virus found in the stool correlating with hospitalizations three days later.  Although researchers agree that there can be no substitute for testing, analysis of wastewater samples may provide guidance in the form of alerts to communities that could be adversely impacted by a surge in COVID-19 cases.