Metro sewers reveal spread of COVID-19 in a new way

Published: Sep. 16, 2020 at 10:29 PM EDT
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Pest control crews on contract with the county are spraying the sewer system to control...
Pest control crews on contract with the county are spraying the sewer system to control cockroaches.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Communities have been looking for ways to better track the spread of COVID-19, and it turns out one answer has been under everyone’s feet.

Following the lead of other cities, UofL medical researchers and Louisville Metro Sewer District employees collected samples from metro sewers and found the coronavirus flowing through every part of the city.

A newly published map shows the highest amounts of the virus were found in an area south of the Watterson and east of I-65 extending beyond Okolona.

Testing was done at 16 locations twice a week from mid-August until early September.

“That would be a reason to be extra vigilant, extra careful,” UofL School of Medicine Associate Professor Ted Smith said. “Not that everybody shouldn’t be careful all the time, but it’s just another signal that says you know, it might really pay off for me and my neighbors if I take these extra steps.”

Smith said there is no way to look in the sewer and determine how many people in an area might have COVID-19 because not everyone infected sheds the same amount of the virus. However, the discovery is a new tool that could help public health officials better allocate resources.

“I really think it’s a matter of focus,” Smith said. “I don’t think it’s a silver bullet that helps us completely win the race. But I think it’s something that can help guide more focused vigilance, more focused measures to really make the most of the resources that we have.”

Okolona residents informed of the findings said they plan to take more precautions.

(Source: Pixabay)

“Now I know, I’m just aware,” Enisha King said. “I’m going to be more aware of who is invading my space."

Carolyn Wolse shared King’s sentiment.

”I take this very seriously," Wolse said. “This is no joke. I keep wondering, is it ever going to go away? Don’t you?”

The samples from the sewers did not hold that answer, but studies suggest this kind of testing could allow public health officials to identify trends and make decisions as much as two weeks sooner.

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