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Wastewater testing for COVID-19 will soon begin for some Wyoming communities 

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Some of the larger communities in Wyoming will soon be testing wastewater for viruses, including COVID-19. It’s being funded through a grant from the state.

Nick Seals, Rock Springs water reclamation facility superintendent, said they’ll soon be testing their water.

“Any bodily fluid that goes down into the wastewater system is going to have trace amounts of any disease or sickness that anybody in that uses,” Seals said.

Wastewater can carry trace amounts of everything from COVID-19 to the flu to HIV. Seals added that testing that water can be a good indicator of the health of a community, to see if reported data on those viruses is accurate.

“If they think that there's only 100 people in Rock Springs that have HIV in there, you can correlate it and say now there's really 1,000 people,” Seals said. “Then maybe some different education can go out on different diseases.”

This testing comes as COVID-19 cases are on the rise again. However, some say this is because more people are returning to in-person work and school is back in session.

“I don't think that necessarily that we're seeing an increase in severity of disease, I think the hospitalizations and emergency department visits are really reflecting that we're seeing more spread,” State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist said in previous WPR coverage. “We're still well below the peaks that we've seen in those previous years.”

Wyoming communities have already tested their waste water. The program was initially done during the height of the pandemic and was stopped in late 2021.

“So I was comparing the results of what the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) was putting out for active and presumed active cases in Rock Springs versus what we were seeing and the trends did follow to a certain degree,” Seals said. “If there was a high number of active cases, there was a higher number of activity of COVID in the wastewater and vice versa.”

This round of wastewater testing will continue through July of 2024 in larger Wyoming communities like Rock Springs. The data will be posted online with the CDC and will help officials better understand the health of their communities.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.
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