Indiana Daily Student

City of Bloomington study shows COVID-19 outbreaks can be detected in wastewater

<p>Samples of raw sewage from the city&#x27;s three treatment plants in storage in a refrigerator at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health building on Nov. 12, 2020 in Chicago.</p>

Samples of raw sewage from the city's three treatment plants in storage in a refrigerator at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health building on Nov. 12, 2020 in Chicago.

A study conducted by the City of Bloomington discovered monitoring the wastewater throughout the city showed increased levels of COVID-19 in areas where outbreaks were detected up to one week later, according to a press release from the city.

The City of Bloomington Utilities collected three weekly samples from August to December at eight locations in Bloomington. The samples were tested by several private laboratories to detect the presence of viral particles in the water.

CBU conducted the study with a team at the University of Notre Dame and 120Water, a Zionsville-based drinking water utility technology support firm.

CBU director Vic Kelson said this new method of detection used in the study is not a solution to the pandemic, but rather an additional tool to be used in combating its spread.

“This is one more additional piece of information that can be mixed together with all the other information,” Kelson said.

The wastewater testing doesn’t identify individual cases, Kelson said, but gauges the concentration of the virus in a given sample. The data collected from the wastewater may give a generalized picture of what areas of the town were experiencing outbreaks.

“When the students first came back to town, we had big spikes in our community, such as on campus or in fraternities” Kelson said.

The data collected from the study showed an increased level of viral activity in the sewers near several fraternities a week before hospitalizations increased for fraternity students.

Kelson said issues such as funding and manpower limited the utility of the wastewater testing. With the limited funding of the study, the CBU could only test eight locations throughout the city for five months. Future improvements in technology and efficiency would allow for more frequent testing of wastewater at more locations, which would be used to monitor increases in cases in real-time, he said.

The CBU is awaiting analysis of the data collected between October and December. Further funding for the study is currently being considered by the Indiana Finance Authority. The CBU plans to continue analyzing the wastewater of Bloomington in a more limited capacity in the meantime, with its board recently approving the continued testing of the two Bloomington wastewater plants for the next nine months.

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