You know about testing and contact tracing but scientists are cooking up another way to track the virus and that is by tracking your wastewater.

What You Need To Know

  • Scientists will contact trace through wastewater.
  • Tracing viruses through wastewater has been done in the past for seeking outbreaks of polio.
  • Local scientists have teamed up to find an inexpensive way to test.

"We push out viral particles through our breath and through speaking and we’ve heard that a lot with droplets with coronavirus," Dr. David Larsen an epidemiologist from Syracuse University, explained. "We also push out viral particles in our feces when we go poop." 

"This is the footprint of the virus, where did it walk, what did it do," Stephen Acquario, executive director of the New York State Association of Counties continued. 

Tracing viruses through wastewater is nothing new. It has been used to detect outbreaks of polio and the avian flu throughout the U.S. 

Scientists from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Syracuse University, and Upstate Medical partnered together to create an inexpensive way to test wastewater right in New York 

Dr. Larsen an epidemiologist from Syracuse University is one member of the team that helps map out the data. 

"You can do one test and its representative of an entire community and see what the level of transmission is," Dr. Larsen explained. 

Think of it as a supplement to contact tracing and testing. While both are still important, this can give officials a broader picture of where the virus is moving and how it affecting different communities. 

With so many asymptomatic people carrying the virus, it can also alert the state faster to a possible outbreak in an area. 

"Within that period you are still shedding the virus and you’re still leaving footprints that you’re infected," Dr. Larsen said. "That’s the pre-symptomatic transmission and the asymptomatic transmission we talk about. And so we catch the transmission maybe before it hits the health system."

Right now, these groups are already testing wastewater samples in Onondaga, Cayuga, and Oswego County. Acquario says more regions have already expressed interest in this type of testing. 

"We have interest coming in from New York City, we have interest from Tompkins County and as we are on the phone together I got an email from Cortland County," Acquario explained. 

The group is asking for around $4-5 million from either the state or federal government to continue testing and tracking COVID-19 in wastewater for at least another year.