Every day, workers at a sewage treatment plant in New Haven, Conn., siphon off a bit of the sewage and put it in a refrigerator. Then researchers from Yale University would come and take samples for analysis.In their hands, samples are a key tool for predicting the trajectory of local covid-19 outbreaks.
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Cities across the United States are using sewer systems to track the spread of the new coronavirus. If someone is infected with the virus, it will be present in the feces even before they may feel unwell. The Yale team analyzed samples collected from treatment plants and reported virus levels to the city government once a week. When they compared the virus level in the sewage with the number of cases reported in the city, they found that the number of viruses in the sludge rose about a week before the case was announced, so this analysis can be used as an early warning of the outbreak, so that the municipal government can take preventive measures in advance.
Once the sewage data is stable, the government will release the epidemic in the form of number of cases. The researchers also hope that they will eventually be able to test sewage from specific buildings. GEICO, for example, has a large facility here where they can collect sewage samples from an inspection well outside the building. If researchers see an analysis peak in that building, they can test everyone in that building in a few days, find out who is spreading it, start isolation, and conduct contact tracking.
The researchers say the level of coronavirus in the sewage is just one of the data new haven uses to monitor the outbreak, as well as the number of cases and hospital stay rates. But it's a valuable addition.