As the state is experiencing an increase in the positive cases of COVID-19, the University of Kansas and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment are teaming up with Johnson County, among other jurisdictions in the state, to expand a study of COVID-19 in wastewater. According to the state’s top doctor, testing can help identify the virus up to a week before it shows in the case and hospitalization numbers. The initial study began in the spring to predict the spread of the virus.
“This study is of utmost importance to Kansas. Not only will this give us more information about COVID-19 transmission in our communities, including Johnson County, but the data will assist us in response to the pandemic,” said Dr. Lee Norman, KDHE secretary.
Originally, the state worked with a dozen communities in studying wastewater. The study supported by grants from the Patterson Family Foundation of Kansas City, has grown to 97 counties, including Johnson County. Testing shows where the virus is commonly found and how it has spread throughout the state. The expansion of the study will assist in predicting the next spike in the virus. It’s an effective alternative to testing entire populations for the virus.
“This is a productive collaboration with other public health partners,” said Dr. Sanmi Areola, director of Johnson County Department of Health and Environment. “Data and information collected will add another tool for us as we make decisions to control transmission of the virus that spreads COVID-19 in Johnson County.”
With this information, resources can be allocated when and where they will be most needed, in a proactive approach.
“Johnson County Wastewater is collecting samples at six wastewater treatment facilities,” said Aaron Witt, chief engineer. “The goal is that this information can assist our Department of Health and Environment in protecting the health of our community.”
This round of testing should be finished by the end of the year.
While SARS-CoV-2 can be shed in the feces of individuals with COVID-19, there is no evidence to date that anyone has become sick with COVID-19 because of direct exposure to treated or untreated wastewater.
KU and KDHE are sharing their results with other researchers nationwide in order to help develop best practices for detecting and fighting the virus.