Alaska researchers try to anticipate COVID-19 spikes by testing waste

Nov 2, 2020

As Alaska experiences a new wave of the coronavirus, contact tracers are working around the clock to track exposure. But what if there were a faster way to predict when a wave would happen, before new COVID-19 cases started rolling in? Researchers at the University of Alaska are partnering with communities around the state to figure out if they can make haste by testing waste.

Sitka’s wastewater flows into a treatment plant on Japonski Island. And while it may not look pretty, what gets washed down the drain can provide clues about how Sitka is faring in the pandemic.

Sitka’s environmental superintendent Shilo Williams says a machine pulls a liter of water from the wastewater stream once a week.

“We collect it in a sample container, and we put it in a cooler and we ship it up to the lab,” she said.

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