Wastewater surveys could be ‘canary in a coal mine,’ aid in early detection of increased spread of COVID-19

Aug 19, 2020

Coronavirus testing is often easier said than done.

For starters, it requires an individual to seek out tests of their own volition, perhaps because they are experiencing the flu-like symptoms associated with COVID-19 or have come into close contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus. It’s then on the testing infrastructure — private companies and public health labs — to process those samples and turn around results as quickly as possible to report to patients and local health authorities.

It’s a process that can be fraught with human error and prone to delays at multiple points in the process. But it’s not the only way to monitor COVID-19 in the community.

Municipalities across the state, from Las Vegas to Elko, have been for the last few months sampling and testing wastewater in an effort to better understand the prevalence of COVID-19 in their communities. Where clinical testing may miss asymptomatic individuals who never seek out testing, wastewater surveys offer a broad picture of all the individuals in a community who are actively shedding the virus.

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