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Pima County to use wastewater data as COVID-19 'early warning sentinel'

Jul 5, 2022

COVID-19 cases are climbing again in Pima County, just as local scientists are figuring out how to gauge infection levels faster and warn the community sooner.

The solution flows in our sewers, where wastewater researchers are focused on establishing baseline SARS-CoV-2 levels.

Here’s how it works: Infected people shed the virus in feces, even if they don’t have symptoms, and that can then be detected in wastewater.

“If we know the community shedding rate of a (sewage) utility service area, we can use that to predict the real number of infections in the community,” said Ian Pepper, an environmental microbiologist and director of the University of Arizona research lab that runs wastewater testing. Pepper and his team will have a paper published on this topic in the next few weeks in “Science of The Total Environment.”

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