How wastewater can help predict a COVID-19 spike


COLUMBUS (WCMH) – Wastewater can help predict a COVID-19 case spike, according to the Ohio Department of Health (ODH).

The Ohio Coronavirus Wastewater Monitoring Network is testing wastewater for gene fragments of the coronavirus.

“Because people start to shed the virus early when infected, a significant, sustained increase in these gene fragments found in wastewater can be an early warning sign of a pending increase in a specific area’s coronavirus cases and can point to possible hotspots or potential community spread,” said Rebecca Fugitt, assistant chief of the Bureau of Environmental Health and Radiation Protection at the ODH.

Fugitt said having that information gives communities the chance to prevent outbreaks, adding that the traces in the wastewater show up anywhere between 3 to 7 days before cases increase.

Six cities have shown an increase in COVID-19 in their wastewater over the last several weeks. ODH is currently monitoring 36 cities with an additional 25 expected to be added in the next month, Fugitt said.

How to use the data from the wastewater is still being worked out, with Fugitt saying ODH is comparing its findings with the waste to data on cases within the community and hopes to be able to provide communities with the 3- to 7-day warning of a spike.

Fugitt said ODH observed an increase in gene fragments in the wastewater in Richland County about five days before a COVID-19 spike associated with the Labor Day holiday.

With this warning, ODH will be able to set up pop-up testing sites, which it is doing now in Mansfield as well as other communities across the state.

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