UW Team To Test Wyoming Wastewater For COVID-19

Nov 6, 2020

The Jackson Wastewater Treatment Plant.
Credit RYAN DORGAN / JACKSON HOLE NEWS&GUIDE

Researchers at the University of Wyoming will soon begin to test the state's wastewater for COVID-19.

Associate Professor in Animal Science Bledar Bisha said they will collect samples right before they go into a wastewater treatment plant in up to 100 sites across the state. Researchers heat up the sample to kill infectious particles. Then they separate, concentrate and test for the virus.

Bisha said the testing is an important surveillance tool, but there are still aspects to learn about its use.

"One thing that we don't quite know very well right now is the amount of virus that is shed by sick individuals, how often those viruses are shed by sick individuals," he said. "It would be very far-fetched to use an indirect method like this to assess how many individuals are actually experiencing COVID."

Bisha called it a good "early alert" system because it catches asymptomatic cases, in addition to symptomatic cases.

Sarah Collins, UW Assistant Professor in Zoology and Physiology, said although the testing cannot predict the number of infected individuals yet, it can show overall trends in cases.

"One thing that's really exciting about this project is that there's universities and government labs across the US who all think it's a really promising surveillance tool.," she said. "It seems like we'll know a lot more about the utility and the sort of inferences you can make as the next months pass on."

The research team will validate the method this week and will be ready to test samples immediately after.

Have a question about this story? Please contact the reporter, Ashley Piccone, at apiccone@uwyo.edu.