Next frontier in COVID testing: Sewage? Minnesota waste is already being monitored

Jul 6, 2020

A growing number of scientists believe the fastest way to know if coronavirus infections are spiking is not by people getting tested.

It’s by monitoring our sewage.

And right now, nearly every day, millions of Minnesotans’ sewage is collectively being tested by several groups of researchers, ranging from teams at the University of Minnesota to a private firm in Boston.

Because infected people immediately begin “shedding” the virus in their stool, testing raw sewage can tell when the virus is present — and whether its levels are rising or falling — even before anyone knows they’re ill. There’s no way to use the sewage system to actually trace a single infection back to an specific person, but since each wastewater treatment plant serves specific communities, an infection spike in one plant’s inflow would give health officials a degree of geographic specificity.

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