DC uses your stool to crush the next COVID-19 increase
DC uses your stool to crush the next COVID-19 increase

DC uses your stool to crush the next COVID-19 increase

Months after more than a dozen states introduced practices, DC is finally starting to analyze wastewater to track COVID-19 in hopes of slowing the next rise.

From next month, we can know how many people are infected before they test positive or show symptoms.

Why it’s important: Wastewater monitoring – the literal analysis of feces – has proven to be a powerful tool in other parts of the country that helps officials and individuals assess risk and make decisions. It can warn of a potential increase in COVID-19 cases because it can detect the virus days before individual tests can. It can also identify specific variants.

  • In addition, wastewater monitoring can detect other diseases – such as stomach viruses – lurking among the public.

But: DC is behind Maryland and Virginia in getting its wastewater monitoring started.

  • In late 2020, the CDC began pushing to various jurisdictions – including DC – to signal their interest in analyzing feces.
  • The city quickly agreed to participate, but did not receive $ 420,000 in funding from the agency until November 2021.

Four months later, the city is still waiting for critical equipment.

  • Anil Mangla, DC’s state epidemiologist, says if the equipment arrives soon, the city could begin publishing its data in April.

The big picture: Wastewater from participating jurisdictions illustrates important trends.

  • Over the past 15 days, one-third of collection points nationwide have seen an increase in COVID-19 cases.
  • In Missouri last year, signs of Delta were present in wastewater as far back as May, before the variant overtook the state, according to COVID-19 data transmission newsletter.

Between the lines: In the midst of loosening restrictions, individuals and companies have been left to enforce their own rules. Meanwhile, DC no longer reports daily case counts. But there is still a threat of new varieties. See: BA.2, a sub-variant by Omicron. Having access to a public poop dashboard would help many of us make smarter decisions – as long as the district reports its data in a timely manner.

How poop scoop works

The district will be able to see what’s in most residents’ feces because it collects samples from four sources:

  • Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant, which treats most of the city’s wastewater.
  • A place in Oxon Hill that provides insight into sections 7 and 8, the areas hardest hit by coronavirus.
  • The Prison and Probation Service and St. Elizabeth Hospital, whose populations are particularly vulnerable to increases due to group settings.

You will in turn be aware of how much COVID is circulating thanks to a CDC dashboard that collects the data.

  • And you will be able to see what percentage of COVID-19 found in waste has changed over the last two weeks.

Mangla will look at the data closely and report trends to city officials.

  • Wastewater survey is a “perfect monitoring system,” he tells Axios.

Link: The program can have a real impact on especially group settings.

  • 17 patients and an employee at St. Elizabeths has died of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, according to a spokesman the blame on the hospital’s slow response.
  • 1 person in the Danish Prison and Probation Service is dead and more than 700 sick, per. DC Health data.

What’s next: Officials plan to use the new infrastructure to identify other diseases and public health problems, including antibody resistance, fungal outbreaks and even food poisoning, according to DC’s Department of Forensic Sciences interim director of the public health lab, Jocelyn Hauser.

  • “It’s a bit like the gateway to more testing,” Hauser says.
Maryland and Virginia: Pioneers in stool

Maryland and Virginia are ahead of DC when it comes to collecting COVID information from wastewater, but the scope of their programs is different.

Commonwealth collects samples from 25 treatment plants. At least four are in northern Virginia.

  • Not all households are included.
  • The CDC’s dashboard shows that the NoVa sites cover more than 826,000 inhabitants across Alexandria, Fairfax City and Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties.

Note: Rekha Singh, who manages the program for the Virginia Department of Health, says the agency sends a weekly report to the state’s COVID-19 task force to help guide their thinking and decision-making.

Meanwhile, Maryland has focused its attention on vulnerable populations by analyzing wastewater from public housing and other group environments.

  • The state is now working to expand the program with 10 new treatment plants.

What they say: Maryland’s targeted program has worked.

  • When the state saw increases in COVID-19, it increased testing and education around masking and social distancing, the assistant secretary of the Department of the Environment, Suzanne Dorsey, tells Axios.
  • Dorsey is now watching a national conversation on how to use such surveillance without stigmatizing the most vulnerable.

Bottom line: Although wastewater monitoring is not new – it has been used abroad for decades to monitor polio and diarrhea – the construction of a robust system now means that future disease outbreaks can be controlled.


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