Michigan begins monitoring wastewater for evidence of COVID-19

Coronavirus is shed in fecal matter before symptoms, so wastewater can provide early warning of illness clusters
Published: Nov. 20, 2020 at 4:06 PM EST
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LANSING, Mich. (WJRT) - Michigan health officials are turning to an unlikely place for signs of COVID-19 outbreaks: Your wastewater.

Two Michigan departments launching the COVID-19 Wastewater Surveillance Pilot Project to monitor water flushed down the toilet and washed down the drain for presence of coronavirus. They hope to provide advance notice of COVID-19 outbreaks for health officials and hospitals.

The project is a collaboration between the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, 29 health departments, 19 laboratories and 135 other organizations around the state.

Health officials say the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is shed in feces and can be detected in wastewater up to a week before the illness shows up with symptoms. Michigan’s contact tracing efforts are stretched thin during the current coronavirus surge, so testing wastewater can provide early warning of illness clusters.

Local health care providers and public health officials could use early warnings of a possible COVID-19 outbreak to adjust testing efforts and prepare earlier for an influx of patients. Long-term care facilities can use wastewater testing to better understand the spread of illness among their residents.

Wastewater testing will begin soon at 270 undisclosed testing sites in 37 of Michigan’s 83 counties. Sites include long-term care facilities, colleges, schools, laboratories, jails and municipal wastewater treatment plants.

Results will be posted on Michigan’s website when they become available.

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