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North Dakota begins testing sewage for COVID-19 variants

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The state is beginning to test for specific strains of the coronavirus using wastewater samples.

This takes a partnership with the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality and North Dakota State University one step further. North Dakota scientists have been testing for cases since July in 21 of our largest cities, representing 62% of the state’s population.

Wastewater is collected at local sewage plants, and instead of treating it, jugs are sent to a lab at NDSU.

NDDEQ Environmental Engineer James Uhlman works on the project. He says the process from there is similar to the technology used to test a nasal swab.

The big difference is COVID-19 cases found in sewage come from a random sample that doesn’t rely on people going out to get tested.

So are cases more prevalent in wastewater or from Department of Health testing?

“We find that there’s a correlation,” Uhlman shared. “…When we see our wastewater go up, clinical information goes up too, the number of active cases or positive cases for that day. “

“Our numbers are really low, similar to what the clinicals are,” he added.

There is no way to trace a positive wastewater sample back to a person, or even a household or neighborhood, just the city.

Uhlman hopes to have some results in the next couple of weeks.

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