San Diego Starts Monitoring Wastewater For Virus

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San Diego is participating in a statewide program to monitor its untreated wastewater for the virus that causes COVID-19, it was announced Tuesday.

City staff have been monitoring for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, or SARS-CoV-2, in untreated wastewater at the Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant this month. Following the test run, staff will monitor for SARS-CoV-2 three times a week from January through June 2021.

All data will be reported to the state within 24 hours of receiving results.

"Assisting the state in monitoring wastewater for this virus is vitally important to the public," said Shauna Lorance, director of the city's public utilities department.

"We hope that the information we provide will help health officials better understand the virus and stop the spread of COVID-19."

The good vaccine news is tempered by worsening case data for the county and state. NBC 7's Alexis Rivas has more.

The California Department of Public Health and the State Water Resources Control Board initiated the wastewater-based epidemiology program in coordination with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and are participating in the National Wastewater Surveillance System, a collaborative effort among states to monitor wastewater.

The surveillance system will then inform the incidence, spread and control or epidemiology of COVID-19 to improve public health decision making.

The Point Loma Wastewater Treatment Plant is one of five large wastewater treatment plants in California already voluntarily participating in a state-sponsored research project with the Water Research Foundation titled "Measure Pathogens in Wastewater" to generate bi-monthly SARS-CoV-2 data in untreated wastewater.

NBC 7's Omari Fleming explains how the university did a little bit of dirty work to prevent thousands of students from contracting the coronavirus.

UC San Diego has been using wastewater testing for months as a way to track the virus among students and staff. In September, the method was praised for it's early detection of the virus, which allowed them to test nearly 650 people to isolate the spread.

Doctors say wastewater testing can catch infections earlier, and even detect positive cases missed by saliva or nasal swab tests. UCSD is hoping to get 100 wastewater collectors to outfit the entire campus.

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