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Wisconsin one of few U.S. states testing wastewater for COVID-19 concentration

NEW Water
Posted at 6:22 PM, Feb 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-08 19:22:27-05

GREEN BAY (NBC 26) — One person’s trash is another’s treasure, and if you live in Wisconsin, your wastewater is a key source for COVID-19 data.

Since April of 2020, testing facilities have been using local wastewater samples to track the concentration of COVID-19.

“We're very lucky to have that as a tool," said Debbie Armbruster, Director of De Pere Department of Public Health.

Wisconsin is one of few U.S. states that is using wastewater to create data on COVID-19. De Pere has been using wastewater surveillance data for almost two years.

“What wastewater really tells us is it can show us where a virus is at even before people have symptoms," said Armbruster.

NEW Water collects samples in Green Bay and De Pere twice a week and sends them to a lab in Milwaukee to test them for concentrations of COVID-19. The treatment facility receives around 32 million gallons of wastewater every day, but each sample is only about one liter.

“I would tell you that if you asked me this five years ago, could we do something like this? I would say, geez, I think you're talking about science fiction," said Tom Sigmund, Executive Director of NEW Water.

It has proven to be an effective way to predict COVID-19 trends so far, said Sigmund.

“The need of COVID-19 probably pushed up work that was being done by the labs, and they saw a need for it and they finished up the technique and so it has proven to be pretty effective.”

The data is now showing a moderate decrease in COVID concentration all over Wisconsin.

It’s encouraging, and could signify the end of the omicron surge, said Armbruster. For now, she’s going to keep her eyes on the waste.

“The community is weary," she said. "And I don't blame them. We're just a little scared that we might be making these decisions too soon. We know that levels are going down, but hopefully they will continue to.”