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COVID wastewater testing to end in December as delta variant spreads

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North Dakota’s Department of Environmental Quality is testing wastewater across the state to detect COVID-19, but the program could be ending soon.

The water sampling began in July 2020 in Bismarck, Fargo and Grand Forks, and eventually grew to 22 cities. Currently, 18 cities are participating by sending samples to a lab at NDSU.

Those include Bismarck, Carrington, Casselton, Devils Lake, Fargo, Garrison, Gwinner, Harvey, Horace, Jamestown, Mandan, Minot, New Rockford, Valley City, Wahpeton, Watford City, West Fargo and Williston. Grand Forks will resume their sampling next week.

The results can show the amount of the virus in a community, without connecting a sample to any one person or household.

The health department uses that data to best allocate resources in slowing the spread of the virus.

Funding for the testing is from federal COVID relief dollars, but the money for the program is set to run out at the end of this year.

Department of Environmental Quality Environmental Engineer Jim Uhlman says the information from the testing has helped confirm the spread of the delta variant, even with fewer people getting tested.

“We’re now able to detect the different variants as they come in. We need a sample that has an elevated coronavirus viral load. We started seeing delta in various cities, and the delta variant is pretty much all over North Dakota now,” Uhlman said.

Uhlman says samples are collected before the wastewater goes into treatment plants by taking about an ounce and a half of water every half hour for a full day.

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