IDAHO – As the omicron variant of COVID-19 emerges in states across the United States, Idaho is investing in a way to test for COVID-19 in wastewater.
The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is using federal money to fund labs to analyze sewage samples statewide. This is something the town of Boise has been doing since the start of the pandemic.
They collect the sewage samples and bring them here to Boise State University where they test the samples for the SARS-COV-2 virus.
“It’s a good way for us to see what’s going on in a community without having to test everyone in the community, which is not possible,” said Christopher Ball, head of the Bureau of Laboratories at the ‘Idaho.
Here’s how it works: The City of Boise collects samples of the wastewater entering its two water renewal facilities on a daily basis. Then a lab team from Boise Sate University gets to work.
“We sterilize the wastewater, then we capture the viral particles inside the wastewater, then we count them so that we can see how much virus is in the wastewater,” said Ernie Ogden, one of the people involved in the wastewater test at BSU.
They are then able to track this data over time to see the peaks.
“There’s some evidence that it can help predict these trends. From the research we’re doing and the data we’re producing, it seems like the – if we see an increase in SARS-COV-2 RNA or of the viral particle that results in COVID-19, it can show up in sewage, I think it was two weeks earlier than hospitalization rates, ”Ogden said.
You can see the City of Boise COVID-19 wastewater dashboard here.
“It really serves as a trending indicator of what’s going on in the community and an early indicator of how variants are changing in the wastewater,” said Haley Falconer, environmental manager for the public works department. from the town of Boise.
The city of Boise sends separate samples to the University of Missouri three times a week for variant testing.
“We had early indications of the delta variant before there were clinical cases in the area,” Falconer said.
Falconer said they haven’t seen any indication of the omicron variant yet.
Wastewater testing doesn’t tell officials how many COVID-19 cases there are, but they do say the information they get from these tests is useful, especially with more people choosing tests COVID-19 in homes that are not reported to the state.
“Our hope is that by incorporating more of a comprehensive wastewater treatment program, we may be able to indirectly get a feel for what is going on in the communities, as the ratio of PCR to home testing continues to lean more toward them. home testing, ”Ball said. .
Five labs across the state will analyze wastewater samples. Labs will be located at the Labs office, Boise State University, University of Idaho, Lewis and Clark State College, and Idaho State University.
“These labs will test wastewater from up to 15 communities if we can successfully recruit them,” Ball said.
The Department of Health and Welfare said it is still in the early stages of this process, so it cannot yet say how many communities will participate in the program. They hope everything will be up and running in four to six weeks.
Falconer said that in the future, wastewater testing could give public health officials important information about more than COVID-19.
“It could be used for things like seasonal flu, norovirus or things like opioids or other community health indicators,” Falconer said.