Wastewater coronavirus testing to be used in Dayton and around state

The tactic can provide an early warning indicating a coronavirus case surge.

Ohio is joining a growing number of states and organizations trying to track the pandemic by tracking coronavirus fragments in sewage, with the goal of detecting signs of a surge before an increase in case counts and hospitalizations.

The increase of COVID-19 cases in communities is typically tracked by testing people for infections, but people having symptoms is an indicator that lags behind the actual spread of the disease.

Research in the U.S. and elsewhere has shown that non-infectious RNA from the virus that causes COVID-19 can be excreted in feces of both symptomatic and asymptomatic infected people and can be detected in wastewater as many as three to seven days before those infections lead to increases in case counts or hospitalizations.

“The system will give us an earlier warning sign of possible COVID-19 case increases in any given community and allow decision-makers to more quickly plan prevention and response efforts,” Gov. Mike DeWine said at an afternoon press conference.

This means monitoring raw wastewater in sewage collection systems can provide an early warning of disease increase in a community. Community and public health leaders can use this early warning information to make decisions about protective actions to help limit further spread of the disease before cases begin to occur.

There are three wastewater monitoring sites in Dayton as part of the program and one in Springfield. The network will be expanded over the next few months to include additional wastewater collection sites around Ohio. As the data comes in, it will be collected publicly at coronavirus.ohio.gov.

The initiative is a collaboration between the Ohio Department of Health, the EPA, the Ohio Water Resources Center at Ohio State University, and other participating universities, including University of Toledo, Kent State University, and University of Akron. As the network expands, sampling and analysis will include other universities with laboratory capabilities.

At his press conference, DeWine also highlighted the significant surges at college campuses in the state. In Ohio, the 18-22 age group has jumped to 35-40% of all cases.

“To our friends in college, we ask you to be careful. You might not get seriously sick, but you can spread the virus to someone who could,” DeWine said.

Coronavirus cases in Montgomery County have been climbing up for the last few weeks, reversing the trend from early August of declining case counts. There were 1,191 coronavirus cases between Aug. 18 and Sept. 1.

The county remains at a “red” or “level three” advisory level, which is indicates significant spread in a community.

This includes a significant outbreak at University of Dayton, where 76 new cases were detected on Sept. 2. This adds up to a total 639 active cases associated with UD.

“Although the number of daily cases has fluctuated, we are encouraged that the seven-day average of new infections seems to be flattening and the number of active cases has dropped significantly to 639 as more students come out of isolation,” UD said in a statement.

At Wright State, no new cases were reported, remaining at five detected cases; no new cases were detected at Cedarville, which remains at two cases. The Dayton Daily News did not get a response from Central State University today, but the universities has previously announced a regular surveillance testing program to reduce the risk of outbreaks.

Dan Suffoletto, spokesman for Public Health - Dayton & Montgomery County, said that there’s many cases at the university but there’s also many cases outside of the university and the virus is present across the county.

With the UD cases, he said the more people that have COVID, the greater the chances of it spreading more widely, and there’s both students and non-students with cases.

“There’s a lot of cases everywhere. And there’s a risk of spread everywhere. That’s why it’s very important for people to pay attention to the instructions regarding isolation and quarantine and also pay attention to things like wearing a mask, keeping good social distancing and practicing good hygiene,” Suffoletto said. “So you need to be wearing that mask wherever you go, keeping at least six feet from people, the further the better, and practicing good hygiene.”