HEALTH

Wastewater Surveillance Program is used to detect COVID-19 in Utah

Mar 15, 2022, 8:05 PM | Updated: Mar 16, 2022, 1:32 pm
COVID-19 utah...
The Utah Department of Health is using a Wastewater Surveillance Program to help detect cases of COVID-19 around the state. (Credit: Paul Nelson)
(Credit: Paul Nelson)

SALT LAKE CITY — Since the beginning of the pandemic, many measures, actions and programs have been taken to fight the spread of COVID-19. Among those is the Wastewater Surveillance Program of the Utah Department of Health

Wastewater surveillance program

“We collect wastewater samples from 32 different municipal sewage treatment plants across the state,” said Nathan LaCross, program manager, to KSL NewsRadio.

LaCross says in the search of samples his team is looking for the virus that causes COVID-19.

“Our purpose for doing that is to get an idea of what is happening in these communities,” LaCross said. “Wastewater is a mechanism by which you can do that.”

LaCross says the program is relatively new, starting up during the pandemic. 

“The resurgence of wastewater surveillance in this country has come about because of the pandemic,” he said.

When it comes to a rise in COVID-19 cases, LaCross says its normal to see changes occur in wastewater first.

“In general, we to tend to see changes occur first in wastewater. There’s usually a lead time” he said. “How much lead time we have between a change in wastewater and the corresponding change in cases depends on quite a few different factors.”

LaCross says those factors include what kind of variant is being detected and how well individual testing is going on.

How often samples are taken

LaCross also says there are two samples taken per week from each site.

“So, I think we have a pretty good idea of what is happening on a regular basis,” he said.

Currently, potential case counts are low. However, that doesn’t mean LaCross is going to let his guard up.

“We are keeping a close eye on them,” he said.

LaCross says he is hopeful the Wastewater Surveillance Program can be expanded beyond COVID-19.

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Wastewater Surveillance Program is used to detect COVID-19 in Utah