The city of Chattanooga, Tennessee plans to keep testing local wastewater for the presence of COVID-19 into 2021 after a study in May.
This study showed thousands more cases of the virus than what was reported by local health officials, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Throughout May, the city’s wastewater treatment center sent samples to Biobot. Biobot did not detect any coronavirus traces at first, despite several dozen cases in the community, reported AP News. On May 26, Biobot projected 12,500 coronavirus infections in the county, however.
At this time, the Hamilton County Health Department reported 717 infections.
“People can, even after they recover, have a positive nasal swab test, but that’s just fragments of the virus. The virus is not active,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “What could be measured at the central wastewater treatment plant could be a measure of current, active infections as well as people who are still putting into the wastewater virus fragments from their illness two weeks ago.”
Chattanooga was one of about 350 cities that participated in the initial study, according to Maura Sullivan, chief operating officer for the city.
The city will work with Biobot into 2021 to continue testing wastewater through a contract for approximately $23,900. Samples will be sent every two weeks and city leaders expect to get results between three and seven days later, said Jeff Rose, director of wastewater systems.