Wastewater testing early indicator of coronavirus increase in Richland, Lucas counties

Coronavirus

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WJW)– The Ohio Department of Health provided an update on the state’s progress monitoring wastewater for coronavirus during Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s news conference on Tuesday.

Rebecca Fugitt, assistant chief of the Bureau of Environmental Health and Radiation Protection, joined the governor via video.

“The Ohio Coronavirus Wastewater Monitoring Network tests wastewater for gene fragments of COVID-19. Because people start to shed the virus early when infected, a significant, sustained increase in these gene fragments found in wastewater can be an early warning sign of a pending increase in a specific areas COVID-19 cases, and can point to possible hotspots and potential community spread,” Fugitt said.

She said their research suggests they will see an increase in coronavirus in wastewater three to seven days before they see an increase in cases. In the last several weeks, the system experienced an increase in gene fragments in six cities.

“Having this information gives communities an opportunity to act proactively to prevent outbreaks,” she said.

Fugitt said they notify local health officials of sustained upticks, then provide resources including popup testing and contact tracing.

“We’re monitoring the gene copies that are in the wastewater entering the wastewater treatment plant. So right now, the data that we collect reflects the community that’s served by the wastewater treatment plant. We do have the ability to go into communities and monitor in specific sub-sewer sheds within that community, we just haven’t started doing that yet,” Fugitt said.

The Ohio Coronavirus Wastewater Monitoring Network tests in 36 cities. Within the next month, 25 more will be added.

Recently, the Ohio Department of Health worked with the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department. The wastewater testing revealed an increase in the Toledo suburb of Oregon so the state coordinated testing.

On Tuesday, the Richland County Health District said it alerted residents of an upward trend of viral gene copies in the Mansfield sewershed, which serves all Mansfield communities. The health department warned this early indicator could mean COVID-19 in the area is rising. Fugitt said the increase followed Labor Day weekend.

According to Fugitt, Summit County health officials are comparing the state’s wastewater findings with its case data.

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