Scientists across the nation are examining Southern California’s poop — maybe even yours — with the hope of more quickly identifying COVID-19 hotspots and better preparing for future surges. The information could also signal when stay-at-home orders can be safely eased in specific communities.
Untreated sewage has been used for years to track viruses as well as to analyze opioid use by neighborhood. Now the race is on to determine whether it can serve as an early warning system for the new coronavirus, particularly since the small fraction of the population receiving swab tests cannot capture the breadth of asymptomatic infections.
“Testing of every individual is very difficult. But if you have 50,000 people in a community, you may be able to determine the prevalence by testing the wastewater,” said Sunny Jiang, a microbiologist leading a pilot project at UC Irvine to identify COVID-19 in sewage systems.