Ohio using wastewater data to track COVID-19 in state prisons


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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — During Tuesday’s coronavirus briefing, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine was joined by Annette Chambers-Smith, the director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, to discuss how congregate setting like prisons can combat the spread of the coronavirus.

Chambers-Smith also discussed how the department is using wastewater data to combat the virus.

Earlier in the briefing, Rebecca Fugitt from the Ohio Department of Health said wastewater can help predict a COVID-19 case spike.

“We’ve been interested in wastewater data since about June,” she said. “Wastewater is an important [indicator] because it’s really the only leading indicator.”

Chambers-Smith said at that same time, the United States Environmental Protection Agency came to the department to collect wastewater data in one prison while The Ohio State University conducted similar studies in three Ohio prisons.

After seeing results, Chambers-Smith said the department decided to test every prison every week and they’ve been doing that since the first week of September.

“What we’re finding is there’s a relationship between what’s going on in the prison and the wastewater and the early warning aspect of it does appear to be happening for us,” she said. “I don’t think we have enough data right now to say conclusively exactly how many days it is, but yes it does look like it’s about seven days and that’s precious time for us to plan.”

She added this information has helped her department members decide how many cohorts can be together, whether or not they’re going to allow visitors, as well as other factors.

Chambers-Smith is now putting out an executive order that will require staff to be tested when indicators like positivity of staff, positivity of the incarcerated and wastewater data show there’s a problem with COVID-19 in a given prison.

Mandatory testing will start Oct. 6 at only the sites where indicators show COVID-19 is prevalent in a specific prison. Voluntary testing may be done at any prison as it has been done since the early months of the pandemic.

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