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State health officials tracking COVD-19 with every flush

Published: Mar. 5, 2021 at 9:21 PM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - We all do number one and number two and now scientists learned the virus can be detected in number two.

Action 2 News first told you in September, UW-Oshkosh is testing its wastewater on campus for traces of COVID-19.

Now the state is ramping up its virus tracking methods with every flush.

“By testing the wastewater, you can theoretically capture infection trends in a community. That includes not only those with symptoms, but those that might be asymptomatic,” said Jake Becken, treatment lead at NEW Water.

NEW Water has been sampling wastewater twice a week since May. It’s one of about 70 facilities across the state monitoring wastewater through the wastewater monitoring program.

State health officials say sampling wastewater can help track other viruses too, like the flu or variants of COVID-19.

“We can’t do sequencing on every single sample that comes from testing people. By looking at wastewater for potential variants we can potentially spot those when they appear in communities before we can pick it up through another method,” said Dr. Jon Meiman, Chief Medical Officer in the Bureau of Environmental and Occupational Health for the state.

State testing data shows the number of positive COVID-19 cases is trending downward and the state’s wastewater monitoring dashboard mirrors the trend.

Samples are analyzed by the Wisconsin State Lab of Hygiene and UW-Milwaukee to determine the amount of SARS-CoV-2 virus present.

“NEW Water is currently supplying wastewater samples from both our De Pere plant and Green Bay plant. Since they are separate service areas, there is value from grabbing a sample from each plant,” said Becken.

Health officials say having an indicator like this can help develop mitigation strategies.

“If we can point to something that indicates that we need to double down a little bit in this particular community, maybe things are starting to head in an upward direction, I think that’s a useful message to get out,” said Dr. Meiman.

In 2020, NEW Water cleaned 14 billion gallons of water, and cleans about 41 million gallons of water per day.

NEW Water spokespeople remind the public to only flush the three Ps down the toilet: Pee, poop, and toilet paper.

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