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New York City may test the vast amount of sewage its residents produce for coronavirus in an effort to better understand the pandemic.
According to The Wall Street Journal, workers at the New York City Department of Environmental Protection have figured out a process to detect the genetic material of the disease in wastewater.
Analyzing the sewage “could be a quick way to get ahead of outbreaks before people start showing up in emergency rooms,” Vincent Sapienza, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, told the newspaper.
New York City has lost more than 23,000 people to the pandemic.
Some people who have the novel coronavirus do excrete virus particles in their feces, even if they aren’t showing symptoms, scientists say.
Utilities nationwide have begun to examine whether sewage can provide more compelling information about COVID-19 outbreaks.
The hope is that if the amount of viral material in wastewater can be quantified, that information can be shared with health workers who are looking for hot spots.
“Even though wastewater is not known to spread the virus, wastewater surveillance has the potential to provide a community-level indicator of the presence of COVID-19 that could help inform public health policy decisions,” a spokesperson for the state Department of Health told the Journal.