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Burlington sampling city wastewater to spot next COVID outbreak

Published: Sep. 3, 2020 at 2:14 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 3, 2020 at 4:08 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The city of Burlington is collecting samples from the wastewater treatment facilities to help track the next COVID-19 outbreak.

Throughout the month of August, the city took weekly samples from the facilities and sent them to three labs. City officials say, in some cases, testing human waste can serve as an early warning system before outbreaks can be confirmed and can even detect the virus in those who are asymptomatic

“From a city perspective, we wanted to put this in place early before most of the students returned to UVM and Champlain, to give us a good baseline prevalence of coronavirus in our community,” said Brian Lowe, the city’s chief innovation officer.

He says sampling wastewater to measure health within a community isn’t new when it comes to the coronavirus and that it’s another tool to help put measures in place like testing centers or increased restrictions if samples come back with high levels of the virus. “This is a surveillance mechanism. It’s not the only one and it’s certainly not the only one we rely exclusively on,” Lowe said.

People we spoke with had mixed reactions about the sampling. “Amazing. I think it’s a very good initiative, said Ravi Nagori of Burlington

“It makes me a little nervous,” said Georgiana Perna.

Lowe says the results come back quickly and so far have shown good results. “Thus far, it’s been confirmed that there is pretty low prevalence in our community of coronavirus,” he said.

The pilot program cost around $13,000. It’s not clear how long it will last but the city is hoping to get funding through the federal CARES Act.

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