Spokane to use sewage system to look for COVID-19

SPOKANE, Wash. — Spokane County is going to fight COVID-19 with our solid waste.

Spokane Regional Health and Washington State University research are going to dive into our sewage to look for virus particles—it’s an approach that will focus more on certain neighborhoods rather than the entire city.

“We not only want to know where the virus may be increasing in presence, but we also want to know where we may have mitigated the virus,” said interim health officer Dr. Frank Velazquez.

They’ll figure out which parts of Spokane are COVID-19 hotspots and then look at that sewage to see how much virus may be there. The sewage will also show which parts of the county have had success in controlling COVID-19 through vaccinations and testing.

“The best way to get the most out of any analytical information you get is to be as specific as you can on where or how you’re going to use it,” said Velazquez.

If the sewage in a certain area shows an alarming amount of infection, then the health district can send more testing and other resources in to control the virus.

WSU is going to help with the research and technical sampling of that sewage. When going through that sewage, it is our solid waste that gives the best results.

“[It is] not as well identified in urine for example,” Dr. Velazquez said. “That’s why we need to get to the sewage, because we need particular material to be able to identify the viral particles.”

This will start happening soon in Spokane. Right now, they’re just trying to figure out how to pay for it. This type of sewage surveillance isn’t without precedent, either—it helped the City of Boise identify the UK COVID variant in its community.

Seattle is doing similar surveillance through the University of Washington School of Medicine.