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Wastewater Can Be Used to Track COVID-19

Tracy Davenport Tracy Davenport
8th June 2020
Wastewater Can Be Used to Track COVID-19
Wastewater may be a way to track COVID-19 (Getty Images)

The Claim

Our wastewater can be an early indicator for a coronavirus outbreak starting again. 

Emerging story

On June 6, 2020, the Boston Herald published, “Coronavirus wastewater analysis lab says sewage can hold keys to reopening.” 

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Misbar’s Analysis

According to the Boston Herald, a Cambridge, Massachusetts lab has been charting the spread of COVID-19 through wastewater and its chief executive officer says that what we flush down the toilet can serve as a warning sign as communities begin to reopen. The lab says it is able to detect an upsurge in new coronavirus cases by analyzing sewage, as people who have COVID-19 shed particles of the disease in their stool. Other news sites reported on the topic as well.

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However, some social media users disagree with the method.

But what is the truth?

Misbar's investigation finds that this method of prediction is just beginning to be understood and documented in the research. In one study, French researchers tested to see if the number of COVID-19 genomes in wastewaters correlated with the number of symptomatic or non-symptomatic carriers. They sampled raw wastewater from several major wastewater treatment plants in the Parisian area. They confirmed that the increase of genome units in the raw wastewaters accurately followed the increase of human COVID-19 cases observed at the regional level. The virus was detected even before the beginning of the growth of the epidemic. A decrease of the virus was seen as the number of new COVID-19 cases decreased. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has released a statement documenting that the virus that causes COVID-19 has been found in untreated wastewater. Tracking the virus this way is taking off fast. According to statnews.com, hundreds of U.S. utilities are now running such tests as part of studies, Finland is testing water in 28 sites every week, the Netherlands in 37, and Germany in 20 per day.  

Wastewater surveillance can be a tool to track COVID-19 and hopefully be an early warning tool to see if cases are rising again once communities begin to reopen. 

Misbar’s Classification


Misbar’s Sources

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