After a couple of false starts, the City of Carmel has found a provider to regularly test the prevalence of COVID-19 in its wastewater to give health officials an early warning that a surge in cases could be coming.
COVID-19 can be detected in the feces of an infected person before they know they have the virus. By checking for it in wastewater, officials can be made aware of a potential surge as much as 10 days before testing of patients would indicate one.
“Testing the wastewater coming into our sewage plant allows us to provide vital information to hospitals and businesses with advance warning that they may experience a spike in COVID-19 cases. Even a few days’ notice can help our community prepare for an increasing number of cases,” Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard stated in a press release. “We all need to do what we can to help our vital healthcare workers and this is one way that Carmel can provide useful information, which will allow our local hospital administrators to make decisions based on scientific data.”
The city began testing its wastewater for COVID-19 in May but ended its partnership with Biobot after experiencing lengthy turnaround times and a tenfold increase in the testing price. Next the city turned to the University of Notre Dame for the service, but the COVID-19 detected in the wastewater at that time was too low to use their program.
Since then, the city identified two labs to provide the service and began sending weekly samples to both of them. Both proved competent, and the city selected Minneapolis-based Pace Analytical to provide the service weekly. Each test costs $315 and is expected to be reimbursed through federal funds. As of Dec. 30, the city had spent $14,187 on COVID-19 wastewater testing.
Data shows that the prevalence of COVID-19 dropped in Carmel from May to June and remained at moderate, consistent levels through September. In late October the amount of COVID-19 detected began to rise quickly, reaching a peak in mid-November. The numbers trended downward in late December.