Pilot program testing wastewater could reveal COVID outbreaks before they worsen

Sep 18, 2020


Credit Interlochen Public Radio

Testing wastewater can rapidly detect COVID-19 outbreaks in college campuses, nursing homes and prisons.

Thanks to a $10 million dollar grant from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act the state is beginning to test wastewater across Michigan.

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) and the State Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) will team up with local health departments and colleges for the three month pilot.

They will be testing wastewater at 19 different sites across the state within two weeks, says EGLE spokesperson Scott Dean. He says the coronavirus is shed in human waste, even by people who don’t show signs of the illness.

“Seventy percent of Michigan residents rely on public wastewater systems,” Dean says. “The ability to predict outbreaks on college campuses, at nursing homes, prisons and other congregate care facilities could be a game-changer in our mission to slow the spread of this virus.”

He says the lab can trace the virus to which building it came from and estimate how many people might be infected.

Staff at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore are also interested in joining the pilot, Dean says, because a lab they use for E. coli testing could also monitor for the coronavirus.