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caption: UW researchers take wastewater samples to track Covid-19.
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UW researchers take wastewater samples to track Covid-19.
Credit: Courtesy of Mark Stone/University of Washington

UW researchers look to the sewer to track Covid-19

Sewer surveillance is widely used around the world to monitor for diseases. At the University of Washington, researchers are taking a slightly different approach to detect Covid-19.

Sewer surveillance often involves taking samples from wastewater treatment plants. But a UW study is collecting from neighborhood pump stations.

“That is representative of certain neighborhoods, rather than the entire city,” said Mari Winkler, assistant professor at the UW Civil Engineering Department.

She says getting closer to the source allows them to see what’s going on in different communities without testing every individual.

People with the virus may not be showing symptoms, but could be shedding it; that can be detected in sewage lines. This could also could help serve as an early warning system, Winkler said.

“It allows us to identify hotspots, where the fire is burning, where we actually need to vaccinate.”

So far, researchers have collected samples from South Seattle and from the University District.