SACRAMENTO, Calif. —  Julio Reyes knows he may not have the sweetest smelling job in the world.

“Yeah, yeah, it smells bad,” Reyes said with a laugh.

For over a year, Reyes and the team at Healthy Central Valley Together have been monitoring COVID in wastewater in Stanislaus, Merced and Yolo County. Seeing the valuable data on COVID that has been collected, the team has now begun testing for RSV and FLU.

“I think it’s more for the community so they can understand and beware of what’s going on,” Reyes said.

The additional testing comes at a critical time, as the state’s health centers have been struggling with high numbers of people struck with COVID, FLU or RSV — and part of the reason testing for RSV and FLU has begun.

The latest data on hospital bed availability in the state show over 80% of beds are in use.

Assistant Professor Heather Bischel has been at UC Davis for six years and is one of the lead researchers looking at the viruses within the wastewater. She said the data being collected on COVID, Mpox, Noro virus, RSV and FLU in rural communities is crucial for health officials, where resources and treatment availability are less abundant.

“That data can be really valuable for decision making about, you know, intervention strategies around masking or public health recommendations, and have a more comprehensive look at these different viruses that are circulating around at the same time,” Bischel said.

Bischel said building this new set of data for rural and urban areas is important as the public behavior on getting tested for respiratory viruses has changed.

“Whether or not you test at home or use a rapid test, that data doesn’t necessarily make it back, and in most cases, doesn’t to public health officials,” she said. “There’s data from hospitals and official testing platforms that does make it back but that can be incomplete. And waste water can fill those gaps.”

Testing Bischel said will continue into the beginning of 2024.

For however long testing is being done, Reyes said he’s in for the long haul, bad smells or not.

“Somebody has to do it. And I’m more than happy to do it.”

So he can help keep his and the wider community safer, and more informed.