The Utah Division of Environmental Quality is now working with scientists using sewage to track coronavirus.
Currently, there have been 1,385 laboratory confirmed positive individual cases of COVID-19 in Tooele County throughout the course of the pandemic with 62 hospitalizations reported and two deaths of county residents, according to the Utah Department of Health.
It is unknown how many Tooele County residents are currently receiving hospital care for COVID-19.
On Thursday, there were 1,163 positive cases of the virus in the county, with 60 hospitalizations and two deaths, according to the Tooele County Health Department.
900 individuals in the county had recovered from the virus according to Thursday’s health department report and the seven-day rolling average of case counts was 33.26.
Utah State currently has seen 106,083 positive cases of the virus since the pandemic began, with 5,102 individuals hospitalized, and 574 deaths, as of Oct. 26.
It is reported by UDOH that 1,037,256 individuals in the state have been tested for the virus.
Utah health officials are monitoring coronavirus in Utah’s sewage systems.
Monitoring sewage may offer health officials a tool for early detection of rising infections, monitoring community infection trends, and confirmation of low infection rates, according to Jared Mendenhall, public information officer with the Department of Environmental Quality.
A pilot program was launched in April to determine whether monitoring sewage could be useful.
Scientists measured the genetic material of the SARS-CoV-2 virus — the virus that causes COVID-19 — in sewage entering ten treatment plants across Utah.
The plants they tested represent approximately 40% of Utah’s population, according to Mendenhall.
“The initial results show that we can not only detect the virus in sewage but we can see trends that are broadly consistent with known infection rates in Utah’s communities,” said Erica Gaddis, director of the Utah Division of Water Quality. “Monitoring virus in Utah’s sewage systems offers a tool for early detection of rising infections, monitoring community infection trends, and confirmation of low infection rates. We hope that monitoring the sewage can help in prioritizing limited state resources such as mobile testing.”
The virus is shed in feces by infected individuals, including those that are asymptomatic.
Virus concentrations in the sewage can be measured by collecting a sample at the inlet of sewage treatment plants.
“The pilot program sampled sewage entering ten treatment plants in Utah. These plants were selected for the pilot study to capture data from different types and sizes of communities across Utah. Samples were collected from mid-April through May 2020,” said Mendenhall.
Virus concentrations were coupled with wastewater flow and service area populations to estimate viral concentrations in units of SARS-CoV-2 copies per 100,000 people in the sampled area per day.
Scientists found that the virus was not detected in the water leaving the sewer plant and discharged to natural bodies of water but they did find the virus in the water entering into the sewage plant.
“The virus was found in the influent-the water entering a sewage plant-of all ten sewage treatment plants that participated in the study and in 64% of 171 samples collected,” Mendenhall said.
The highest concentrations of the virus were found in urban areas and tourist communities.
Jeff Coombs, Tooele County Health Department director, reported during the Oct. 20 County Commission meeting that levels of SARS-CoV-2 found in Tooele City sewage increased from a concentration level of 45 on July 7 to 229 on Oct. 13. They then lowered to 100 on Oct. 20.
“It shows you the amount of virus that’s in the wastewater,” Coombs said. “The higher the number is a good indicator of how wide-spread it is in the county. They look at trends from the last three readings to determine if it’s going up or staying the same. There is a greater prevalence of Covid in our waste water at this time.”