Cody Testing Human Waste For Presence Of COVID-19

May 8, 2020

Credit Leonard J. DeFrancisci via Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

The city of Cody is starting to detect the presence of COVID-19 in the community by testing human waste through the sewage system.

Park County Public Health officer Dr. Aaron Billin said he first heard about the test during a meeting and he started researching it right away.

"They [test results] can tell you how many people in your city using that sewer system are shedding the virus," said Billin.

Currently, one test costs $120 but that will increase to $1,200 in June since the company is seeing such high demand. Billin said it's especially important to have an idea of the presence of the coronavirus in Cody because it's a gateway town to Yellowstone National Park.

Cody collected it's first sample last week and is expecting the results any time now. Billin said the plan is to continue testing the municipal sewage system at regular intervals.

"As the park opens and tourists start coming back in the hotels, if it comes back and says there are five people in your community shed[ing] the virus. That's your baseline. We know where we start," said Billin.

But if that number increases, Billin said that's valuable data on how to move forward.

"Once the park opens up and the hotels fill up...if we now have 150 people shedding virus, then we know we have a problem," said Billin. "And then we know we have data that we can now act upon taking further public health measures to mitigate this."

Jackson Hole and Livingston, Montana are also using the test. Billin said it would be ideal if all gateway communities could use the test so that the communities can help limit the spread as tourists start flowing in.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Kamila Kudelska, at kkudelsk@uwyo.edu.