Monday, May 4, 2020

What can sewage reveal about COVID-19? Research is underway.

Posted By on Mon, May 4, 2020 at 4:00 PM

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The phrase "down the toilet" usually means it's a big waste and gone forever.

But Colorado Springs Utilities is among hundreds of utilities across the country participating in research to find out what wastewater can tell us about the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19.

As CNN reports, several efforts are under way to "flush out hidden cases of the virus by examining sewage."

While El Paso County Public Health isn't involved, Springs Utilities definitely is gathering samples.

El Paso County Coroner Dr. Leon Kelly, who's serving as a deputy Public Health director during the pandemic, says he checked on the project with Dr. James Terbush, member of the health board, who "indicated it could be a good way to qualitatively identify hot spots over the long haul as our cases come and go in the future if the work pans out."

Utilities spokesperson Steve Berry says via email that the agency's lab started collecting samples on May 1 but details are sketchy.

"I did confirm that we were not asked by the County or CDPHE [Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment]," he says. "We participated in this nationwide research effort voluntarily and as noted in the CNN article.... We don’t know when the results will come back. We’re shipping the samples (collected throughout May) to the same company [Biobot] mentioned in the CNN article."

Berry says Utilities will pay $960 to have its samples analyzed. Results will be shared with the industry, with Utilities and local health officials, he says.

"They did not provide timing of when this would be complete and/or released," he says, noting the city's lab isn't capable of conducting the testing involved in the study.

"I do not know how the data will ultimately be used by researchers or local health officials," Berry adds.

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