Spokane Regional Health District testing wastewater for COVID-19

SPOKANE, Wash.– Health leaders across the U.S. are testing wastewater to help track COVID-19 cases. In Washington, six health districts are doing so.

Health officers volunteer to take part in the program in partnership with the Washington Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Spokane County, the health district is sending samples from two different wastewater plants. Over the past 15 days, data shows more COVID has been found in the water.

Spokane Regional Health Officer Frank Velazquez said they’ve been testing the wastewater since October. However, now is when they’re starting to see results and trends.

“We’ve been working on developing the models and analytics so we can use this in the future as a tool that allows us to predict a little better,” Velazquez said.

The goal is to make sure the data they’re seeing in the community with regular tests is what they’re seeing when they test wastewater.

With the shift in the fight against COVID, there are now more ways to get tested. That includes at-home tests. Because of that, the health district believes the number of cases in the community may not be correct. So, testing wastewater could help better track cases.

“We do know that even asymptomatic individuals will shed virus in their feces and urine, so we can still find it in the wastewater,” Velazquez said.

Testing wastewater is easy. The City of Spokane just scoops a jug of it and sends it off to the Department of Health.

“We are always working with wastewater, obviously, and taking care of it in lots of different ways. So, this is just one more sample that we’re sending on for testing,” said Kirstin Davis, the communications manager for the public works and utilities department with the City of Spokane.

Velazquez said testing the wastewater isn’t 100-percent accurate, either. The results also won’t show specifically which areas in Spokane the positive tests are coming from since they test wastewater at treatment plants.

The Washington Department of Health said it plans to expand wastewater COVID testing to more counties. They plan to do it for at least 12 months, but it’s possible it will go longer than that.

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