Can tracking COVID-19 in wastewater help slow the spread?

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Published: Jan. 26, 2022 at 8:40 AM EST
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) - For nearly a year and a half, wastewater samples were collected across the University of Florida’s part of Gator WATCH, which stands for waste water analysis for tracking community health.

As COVID-19 hotspots were detected, researcher Joseph Bisesi said isolation and testing protocols could be implemented to reduce the spread of the virus.

“Wastewater was definitely able to identify a few hotspots where we didn’t know there were cases at the time so I think it was effective in addition to the testing going on with the screen, test and protect program,” Bisesi said.

Classroom buildings and fraternity and sorority houses are just two examples of places monitored. While on-campus testing concluded at the end of the fall semester, the recent spike in cases is still being monitored through sampling throughout Gainesville.

“I mean the concentration we’re seeing in wastewater right now is quite high,” Bisesi added. “I think it’s to be expected for the number of cases here in Gainesville and Alachua County, but we’re definitely seeing a mirroring of the wastewater compared to numbers of cases.”

The data is still being analyzed and samples are being preserved at -81 C for further testing.

“It comes into these 1 liter bottles. Then, we allocate it into these smaller bottles to do our actual analysis as well as archiving those samples so if we wanna go back and do additional analysis on these samples we can because they’re in the freezer,” Bisesi said. “We have hundreds of wastewater samples we’ve been archiving for the last year and a half.”

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Data from this study is now being used to help with other new projects like screening a senior living facilities waste water for presence of the virus.

“If that’s the case, the Department of Health can go in and do some testing before it spread to a very vulnerable population,” added Bisesi.

Another project studies the correlation between tourism and COVID-19 cases in Cedar Key.

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