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North Dakota officials using wastewater to track COVID-19

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As the fight against COVID-19 continues to evolve, states are trying to find ways to stay ahead.

Professor and Head of Microbiological Sciences at NDSU John McEvoy said, “We’ve been testing wastewater for the COVID virus since early July.”

As the battle against COVID-19 ensues, health officials around the world are thinking of fresh ways to defend against the ever-expanding virus.

One such solution pushing its way toward the front lines is wastewater surveillance.

“Typically with respiratory viruses, you’re not going to be able to track it in wastewater so easily, but for the virus that causes COVID it’s actually shed in the stool samples and is found in wastewater,” McEvoy said.

Testing first began in Fargo and Grand Forks and has since expanded to other cities here in the state.

With a small grant from the Department of Environmental Sciences, McEvoy says they are now able to sniff out the virus.

“What we do is take a small sample of wastewater from a facility, we’re talking about a really small volume, and we test that for the virus and we basically just look for the genetic fingerprint of the virus,” he said.

He says this new method of testing will allow for better monitoring and be able to direct resources to where they need to go.

“Let’s say there’s a community where maybe they don’t have a lot of cases and we could be monitoring the wastewater and serving as kind of a sentinel system so that if the levels start going up we know that resources need to be directed to that community,” he said.

As things progress the hope is to not only track COVID-19, but other viruses as well.

“It doesn’t work for everything, but when it can be used I think it’s an efficient way of sampling the community,” McEvoy said.

Ultimately keeping everyone safe and ahead of the fight on complicated battlegrounds.

McEvoy says they’re looking into collecting more grants to help with expanding this into more communities.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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