“Very high” and “increasing” concentrations of COVID found in Nebraska wastewaters

Shannon Bartlet-Hunt is a professor of engineering at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. She is based in Omaha, Nebraska. She is responsible for establishing sites for the collection of wastewater, collecting samples, and analyzing the results. Travelers are excluded from the process at the site at Eppley Airfield, but the procedure is otherwise same at the state’s 19 other sites.

This sampler collects the water into these containers, and this one is set to collect in a couple of days. As you can see, the tubing that comes up through the box and into the sampler. According to Bartlett-Hunt, “And what we take back to the lab are basically these little wastewater samples that we can then check for the COVID concentration.”

The most recent report indicates that COVID concentrations are “extremely high” and “growing,” as the report states. If we test positive for COVID, it could be because we have been exposed to the virus or because we are now suffering symptoms. The fact that more people are testing at home or not at all can cloud an accurate picture of how an infection is actually spreading throughout the community.

According to Bartlet-Hunt, “now that people aren’t performing as much testing, that there’s more at-home testing that isn’t getting reported, it doesn’t track as well.”

An epidemiologist with the Douglas County Health Department named Justin Frederick stated that testing of wastewater provides the health department with a 10-day head start.

According to Frederick, “It assists us in planning for what is to come, and it also assists us with our messaging to the general public about steps they might be doing to prevent the transmission of COVID.”

Although testing wastewater is not a new practice overall, it is new in the state of Nebraska. Because of COVID, the infrastructure was created in this location. It was used earlier this year to detect polio in wastewater in New York, and it has the potential to be used to screen for other viruses as well, such as the flu.

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