Sewage monitoring shows COVID-19 increasing in parts of Utah

SALT LAKE CITY – In this new “steady state” phase of COVID-19 in Utah, monitoring the virus in our wastewater has become an even more important tool.

The Utah Department of Health has been closely monitoring virus trends even as fewer people are getting tested. Every toilet flush provides COVID-19 data in our communities.

Since this tool was first developed two years ago, COVID-19 wastewater monitoring has evolved into an early warning system. Currently, three Utah sampling sites are showing increases in COVID-19 that the program manager is monitoring closely.

“We collected our very first samples almost exactly two years ago,” said Nathan LaCross, Ph.D., MPH, wastewater monitoring program manager at the Utah Department of Health. “It provides a really efficient pool sample, especially for diseases where there may not be other high-quality surveillance data available.”

Utah and many other states routinely monitor sewage for COVID-19. Infected people shed the virus in their waste, and concentrations are measured in sewage samples at the inlet to 42 treatment plants across the state. These data provide an indicator of trends in COVID-19 infection.

“We are testing, by our estimate, 88% of the state’s population twice a week. It’s just not possible using something like individual tests. You just can’t get that kind of coverage, LaCross said.

At this time, the program manager said COVID-19 is in the low range statewide, with the exception of eight sites on the rise. At five of these sites, the overall numbers remain low. At the Moab and Park City treatment plants, he thinks they are seeing higher concentrations due to travelers passing through those communities.

“We are out of winter now. We are in spring. There are more population movements. There are more people going out and traveling,” LaCross said.

So there are more opportunities to spread the virus.

“Covid is not gone,” he said. ” He is always there. So I suspect we’re just seeing an increase in transmission due to increased population movement and contact. »

Nationwide, researchers are seeing an increase in COVID-19 in wastewater monitoring at 150 sites, mostly in the northeast. LaCross said it’s too early to tell if the rise here is related, but he isn’t alarmed.

“I wouldn’t say alarm, no. Attention, yes, and, keeping an eye on what we are doing. But, alarm probably not, not yet.

The program manager said the goal was to make COVID-19 wastewater monitoring a permanent tool and use it for other viruses as well.

You can find your community’s wastewater treatment plant data here.

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