UC Davis researchers develop way to expand COVID-19 detection through wastewater sampling

Local News

DAVIS, Calif. (KTXL) – An effort by UC Davis researchers to quickly detect whether COVID-19 is in the Davis community is expanding through wastewater sampling.

The goal for Davis is early detection and those with the operation believe this expansion will help with those efforts as more and more people are venturing out.

“We are still detecting positive cases in our community,” said Heather Bischel, who is co-leading the wastewater monitoring operation. 

While Davis has had a positive COVID-19 rate of less than 1% the city and Healthy Davis Together are expanding their wastewater monitoring operation for detecting COVID-19.

“As a type of an early warning system so we can detect the virus in the waste system,” Bischel said. “People who are infected shed the virus in their stool. Some people do and at different levels.”

Bischel says looking at the city wastewater lets them know if there is an increased level of COVID-19 since the virus can be shed in the stool of an infected person.

They are now expanding the operation from the city wastewater facility to neighborhoods so the detection can be earlier and have a better idea if a certain area has an outbreak.

“The levels in the wastewater reflects what you see if you have a robust testing program but it’s also an unbiased system,” Bischel said.

Bischel tells FOX40 the samples are collected throughout the system twice a week and analyzed by her lab. She hopes this effort gets people to get tested earlier than they maybe would. 

One Davis resident is surprised by the different ways a virus can be detected.

“I think it’s great to be innovative and think of new creative ways to try and deal with these issues,” said Brenda Rosa, a Davis resident.

Bischel, also an assistant professor at UC Davis’ Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, says environmental monitoring will continue to be helpful as a way to drive the virus out of our communities.

“The hope is to keep it going as short as possible until the pandemic is over. In Davis, we have plans to continue it to the fall and we will see where things are at, at that point,” Bischel said. 

“Beginning in April, community members who have registered to receive community messages through the Yolo Alert system will receive important wastewater updates. The city will also post important information on wastewater virus levels to neighborhoods via Nextdoor.”

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