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64% of sewage samples in Utah test positive for COVID-19

(File - Getty Images) In April, researchers at the state, along with those at the University of Utah, Utah State University, and Brigham Young University, started testing the wastewater entering 10 treatment plants. Now, they're saying 64% of the sewage they tested were positive for COVID-19.

SALT LAKE CITY – The state of Utah has been testing sewage samples for two months to track the spread of COVID-19 and the results are in. The Utah Department of Environmental Quality says 64% of their samples tested positive for the virus. 

Why test sewage for COVID-19? 

Human waste is like a DNA profile. It can show a scientist what a person ate, what medication they are taking, and what diseases they have. 

Scientists figured it might be easier to track the spread of COVID-19 that way instead of requiring people to get a nasal swab.

In April, researchers at the state, along with those at the University of Utah, Utah State University, and Brigham Young University, started testing the wastewater entering 10 treatment plants. Most were along the Wasatch Front and northern Utah, though at least one was in Price. 

Of the 117 samples they took, 64% had at least some trace of COVID-19. 

“The initial results show that we can not only detect the virus in sewage but we can see trends that are broadly consistent with known infection rates in Utah’s communities,” said Erica Gaddis, director of the Utah Division of Water Quality.

“Monitoring virus in Utah’s sewage systems offers a tool for early detection of rising infections, monitoring community infection trends, and confirmation of low infection rates. We hope that monitoring the sewage can help in prioritizing limited state resources such as mobile testing.”

Utah Department of Environmental Quality spokesman Jared Mendenhall said the testing also helped them find a recent outbreak in Cache County. 

“In late May, we did see a large increases in the virus in the Logan and Hyrum area. This trend was mirrored a week later as we started to see those active case counts come into the Cache Valley,” Mendenhall said. 

There are plans to expand the COVID-19 testing to the other sewage plants in Utah.

 
 


How To Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 Coronavirus

COVID-19 coronaviruses transmitted from person to person. It is a virus that is similar to the common cold and the flu. So, to prevent it from spreading:

  • Wash hands frequently and thoroughly, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds.
  • Don’t touch your face.
  • Keep children and those with compromised immune systems away from someone who is coughing or sneezing (in this instance, at least six feet)
  • If there is an outbreak near you, practice social distancing (stay at home, instead of going to the movies, sports events, or other activities.)
  • Get a flu shot.

Local resources

KSL Coronavirus Q&A

Utah’s Coronavirus Information

Utah State Board of Education

Utah Hospital Association

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Utah Coronavirus Information Line – 1-800-456-7707

National Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Commonly asked questions, World Health Organization

Cases in the United States