The City of Eugene will be one of dozens across the state to have its wastewater analyzed for the presence of the coronavirus.
It’s an expansion of an existing project by researchers at Oregon State University. Analysts examine samples of sewage taken from municipal wastewater systems, looking for signs of the virus that causes COVID-19.
Tyler Radniecki, an associate professor of environmental engineering at OSU, said the procedure can function as an early warning system of an uptick in cases. “A lot of the scientific reports, and our data correlates with that, shows that perhaps as much as a week ahead of time, we can detect the virus before the caseloads go up,” he said.
It comes as officials at the University of Arizona announced this week that wastewater monitoring allowed the school to get a headstart in containing a COVID-19 outbreak in one of its dorms.
Additionally, Oregon State has received a grant from the Oregon Health Authority to expand its sewage research to Eugene and more than three dozen other cities around the state. Radniecki said the program will potentially alert municipalities of a possible uptick in virus cases.
“While wastewater concentrations currently cannot predict the number of cases in the community, they can give you a relative sense of the number of cases," he said. "Is it reasonably high, is it reasonably low, how is it changing? We have pretty strong confidence in that.”
Radniecki said Eugene has confirmed its participation in the program, which requires wastewater workers to collect the samples and then send them to a lab at OSU. He said the school is also reaching out to Cottage Grove and Roseburg.