Flushing out omicron: Wastewater treatment testing offers clues to pandemic outbreaks

Feb 14, 2022

TRAVERSE CITY — On Mondays and Thursdays, Natalie Sutherland looks at poo.

Continuing coverage of COVID-19 and its impact. If you have a question about the novel coronavirus pandemic and haven't been able to find an a…


Of course it’s mixed into wastewater — the unpleasant lifeblood of Traverse City’s sewers — and in reality, it looks more like a murky glass of puddle water.


But for scientists like Sutherland, it’s liquid gold. And during a pandemic, it’s one of the best indicators of viral transmission levels around, given that coronavirus particles leave the bodies of the COVID-positive just like anything else you might leave on a trip to the bathroom.

Lately, the readings are good.

Throughout the pandemic, some states have ramped up this seemingly unusual method of monitoring community transmission. The argument, scientists say, is that wastewater is more reliable than at-home and self-reported case reporting. Now, our sewage is saying what local health officials have hoped for since the fourth COVID-wave crashed on northern Michigan in December: omicron has begun, if slowly, to circle the drain.

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