Oregon, Toledo join monitoring study on COVID-19

Kelly J. Kaczala

       The Ohio Department of Health (ODH) and Ohio EPA are coordinating with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Cincinnati and the Ohio Water Resources Center (Ohio WRC) at The Ohio State University on a monitoring study that includes sampling from several of Ohio’s municipal sewage and wastewater treatment systems to determine the presence of coronavirus ribonucleic acid (RNA) fragments.
        Oregon and Toledo are among the cities that will participate in the initial round of sampling.
        Virus RNA fragments are present in the feces of those who are both symptomatic and asymptomatic for COVID-19. Through this research initiative, data from samples gathered in sewage collection systems’ raw wastewater may provide an early warning of disease occurrence in a community and possibly an estimation of the disease prevalence. Emerging science at both the national and international level suggests that the virus in infected individuals can be detected in wastewater about three to seven days before there are increases in cases and/or hospitalizations.
        Besides Toledo, The initial round of sampling is being coordinated in partnership with wastewater utility departments in some of Ohio’s largest municipal areas, including Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Akron, and Dayton. The research team is actively reaching out to other communities and it is anticipated that additional municipalities, including medium and small community systems, will participate in the research.
        At an April 27 Oregon City Council meeting, Public Service Director Paul Roman said that the Lucas County Health Department had reached out to the city to inquire whether Oregon wanted to do a joint study with the City of Toledo and Lucas County Sanitary Engineers to test raw wastewater to determine the degree of COVID-19 in the wastewater.
        Lucas County Health Commissioner Eric Zgodzinski made inquiries via email as to whether the city would be interested in being part of the study, said Roman.
        “He asked if area wastewater plants wanted to do this,” said Roman. “He asked if we would send samples of raw wastewater and effluents to the University of Arizona. The main purpose is to see what raw sewage could tell us about the virus. Wastewater has all kinds of viruses. It’s just the nature of it.”
        The city agreed to submit samples and be part of the study, which was to be conducted over the next few months.
        “The idea is, could wastewater be used as a predictor of a COVID-19 outbreak. There are a couple of papers that are out right now – one out of Paris, and a few others - that are saying wastewater could be a good predictor,” said Roman. “What they discovered in Paris is they saw it was peaking, probably a week before they were really hit hard. They are thinking it’s possible if there’s a second wave here, we could use wastewater as a predictor.”
        Community sewage detection could determine whether there are coronavirus carriers in an area to enable rapid screening, quarantine and prevention to minimize its spread.
        Roman told The Press last week that Oregon is now sending its samples to a local lab, which will share the results with OSU.
        “We are now part of the EPA study,” he said. “Originally, we were taking samples on our own before we eventually got with the EPA. We’re taking samples at the wastewater treatment plant every Monday. It’s being coordinated through OSU with a grant by the EPA. We’re taking our samples to UT’s Medical Center and those results are being shared with OSU, which is compiling that data for the EPA.”
Viral loads
        For Ohio, this research may unlock important tools for public health officials to better estimate viral loads as a leading indicator of disease occurrence in a community, to help understand disease trends, and to inform or assess the effectiveness of community interventions to limit the spread of disease.
        The research is being supported by $2 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding, and the project is being led by the Ohio WRC at OSU in coordination with other Ohio academic partners, including the University of Toledo, University of Akron, and Kent State University. It is anticipated that the research will expand to include other universities across the state with laboratory capabilities.
        U.S. EPA is a partner in these research efforts and ODH and Ohio EPA are closely coordinating with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on this research. Ohio’s leadership role in this research will help advance this emerging scientific area and provide important data to public health officials statewide.
        Additional information about the research, including sampling data, will be posted in the future on Ohio’s COVID-19 website. Citizens with questions about the project can contact their local health department or the Ohio Department of Health for more information.


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