DC Water joins national sewage study to search for COVID hot spots

Searching for clues about where coronavirus hot spots are in the nation’s capital is a dirty job.

DC Water is joining several other water treatment agencies across the U.S. to study sewage in an effort to find clues about where the disease is cropping up.

“COVID-19 is the health issue of our lifetime and I am proud that DC Water can participate in a study as critical as this one to learn more about this virus and find ways to prevent it from taking even more precious lives,” David L. Gadis, CEO and general manager of DC Water, said in a news release.

Samples are expected to be taken soon for phase one of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services program.

In the first phase, DHHS is aiming for samples from 100 treatment plants that serve about 10% of the U.S. population, according to the release. The second phase would expand the program to 42 states that serve 30% of the population.

The idea is to obtain a broad sampling so that health officials can spot spikes before an outbreak becomes uncontrollable.

Fecal samples taken from the waste stream can “indicate the presence of a COVID-19 infection even if the person is showing no symptoms and may not even be aware they are sick,” according to the release.

Since SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, shows up in stool samples, it provides an almost immediate indicator of the presence in the local community, the release said.

DC Water treats all of the wastewater in the District, as well as some of the wastewater from the nearby Maryland and Virginia suburbs.

The specifics of the sampling — such as where, when and how often samples are taken — is still being decided.

Will Vitka

William Vitka is a Digital Editor and reporter for WTOP.com. He's been in the news industry for over a decade. Before joining WTOP, he worked for CBS News, Stuff Magazine, The New York Post and wrote a variety of books—about a dozen of them, with more to come.

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