Utah Researchers Hope To Trace Coronavirus In Waste Water

Apr 15, 2020, 7:52 PM | Updated: Jul 26, 2022, 11:44 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Researchers around the world, and here in Utah, have started testing waste water for the novel coronavirus, hoping it will help them estimate the number of infections in the community without having to test everyone.

The Utah Department of Environmental Quality has started a pilot program with three in-state universities to find out if it works.

Most people in our community will not be tested for coronavirus. Researchers think identifying the virus in our sewage at waste water treatment plants could be a good way to estimate the number of coronavirus infections in our communities.

Analyzing the waste headed to the treatment plant is one way researchers can track infectious diseases we flush away.

“We know there’s a very real possibility, that people are excreting virus whether they are symptomatic or not,” said Erica Gaddis, director of the Utah Division of Water Quality.

A team of local researchers said they want to find out if they can trace coronavirus infection levels by detecting it in our waste water. They started collaborating with the University of Utah, which pioneered the concept, and researchers from BYU and Utah State University.

“We are testing this concept at a number of facilities across Utah,” said Gaddis.

Researchers have found traces of the novel coronavirus in waste water in the United States and in Europe.

“The initial results show that we can detect the virus,” she said. “I should emphasize that the way that we are handling the samples, the virus is not live, so we’re just looking at the genetic material to see the infection levels and how they may vary across the state.”

The researchers have started a three-week pilot program at nine waste water treatment plants to see if that testing could be an effective tool for the public health system.

“If it works, if we are able to correlate the viral waste load in waste water or sewage to infection rates that are known in various communities across the state, then it could become a tool that our public health partners could use to inform some of their decision making,” said Gaddis.

The testing could be used to detect the virus if it returns, an early-warning tool to alert communities to new COVID-19 infections, and help them limit the potential damage to public health and the economy in the future.

“Certainly, we think we can see trends,” said Gaddis. “The question is whether we can really quantify and correlate that to the infection rates, so that’s what we’re trying to pilot right now.”

She said the testing highlights the good work that waste water treatment facilities do every day, and gives her division a chance to explore new ways to attack the virus.

“It is exciting to be able to have a role in potentially helping public health decisions being made,” the director said.

She said it’s a good time to remind everybody that our waste water treatment plants are effective in cleansing our water, and providing us safe drinking water.

KSL 5 TV Live


A sign reminding Copper Hills High School students and staff to keep their hands clean during the c...

Lindsay Aerts

Utah school districts working to prioritize what stays when COVID relief money runs dry

Utah's school districts are working to figure out how they will continue to pay for programs propped up by COVID-19 relief funds.

13 days ago

FILE: Former Utah Jazz John Stockton reacts during a 76-70 Wichita State win over the Gonzaga Bulld...

Michael Houck

Former Utah Jazz star John Stockton sues Washington medical director about COVID misinformation policy

Former Utah Jazz superstar John Stockton has filed a federal lawsuit against Washington officials on First Amendment violations, arguing the state's policy of COVID-19 misinformation is unconstitutional.

3 months ago

Deer Creek Reservoir...

Alex Cabrero

State parks expecting another record visitation year, hiring more workers

It didn't matter how cold or snowy it was at Deer Creek State Park Friday afternoon. Nothing was going to stop Leonard Sawyer from taking his boat out to do a little fishing.

3 months ago

FILE —  Respiratory virus illness activity continues to increase across the US.
(Joe Burbank/Orl...

Emma Benson

‘Not viruses to mess around with’: Experts urge caution during ongoing ‘tripledemic’

Experts say though not as severe as last year, this winter we're seeing another "tripledemic" – rising cases of COVID-19, flu and RSV in Utah.

5 months ago

FILE - COVID-19 antigen home tests. (AP Photo/Patrick Sison, File)Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS...

Emma Benson

‘The ICUs are full:’ Keep yourself and others healthy this holiday

It's time for holiday gatherings, but with more people around us comes a greater risk of getting sick.

5 months ago

Julianna Preece goes through the mountain of medical documents she's acquired for her health condit...

Lauren Steinbrecher

Herriman couple is suing CVS, says 5x Covid vaccine dose mistake caused health problems

A couple is suing a Utah CVS vaccination clinic, saying a nurse’s mistake led to the wife receiving five times the normal COVID-19 vaccine dose and caused serious health issues she’s still dealing with today.

6 months ago

Sponsored Articles

Electrician repairing ceiling fan with lamps indoors...

Lighting Design

Stay cool this summer with ceiling fans

When used correctly, ceiling fans help circulate cool and warm air. They can also help you save on utilities.

Side view at diverse group of children sitting in row at school classroom and using laptops...

PC Laptops

5 Internet Safety Tips for Kids

Read these tips about internet safety for kids so that your children can use this tool for learning and discovery in positive ways.

Women hold card for scanning key card to access Photocopier Security system concept...

Les Olson

Why Printer Security Should Be Top of Mind for Your Business

Connected printers have vulnerable endpoints that are an easy target for cyber thieves. Protect your business with these tips.

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light Up Your Home With These Top Lighting Trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for Hassle-Free Computer Repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Close up of finger on keyboard button with number 11 logo...

PC Laptops

7 Reasons Why You Should Upgrade Your Laptop to Windows 11

Explore the benefits of upgrading to Windows 11 for a smoother, more secure, and feature-packed computing experience.

Utah Researchers Hope To Trace Coronavirus In Waste Water