County to study sewage as way to trace virus hotspots

May 27, 2020

Novel coronavirus
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A county in southeastern Michigan wants to determine the effectiveness of sampling and studying sewage to see whether hot spots for the COVID-19 virus can be traced.

The pilot project was expected to start in June in Macomb County, just north and northeast of Detroit.

Samples will be collected twice each week from seven sites in Clinton Township. If successful, the pilot project can be expanded to other parts of the county, according to Macomb Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller.

“Through this, we hope we can identify ... certain neighborhoods or parts of a community where there is a hot spot,” Miller said. “Our goal is to provide that information to the health department so they can better target their contact tracing or other actions they may be able to take to reduce the community risk.”

Michigan has more than 55,100 confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 5,260 deaths blamed on the virus since the start of the global pandemic.

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued stay-at-home orders in March that closed many businesses. Those orders are slowly being scaled back to allow a cautious reopening of Michigan’s economy.

“Providing information not only to our medical professionals, but to the public as well, is foundational to fighting this disease,” Miller said. “We believe there is a real opportunity here to be a part of the solution and we are working as quickly as we can toward that goal. This ability to detect potential hotspots will be critical as we reopen our economy.”

Miller’s office is working with Oakland and Michigan State universities, which will test the samples. Data will be given to Oakland County’s health department for review. Plans include providing an online public dashboard to allow residents to view the data.

The project is receiving funding from the federal CARES Act. The initial pilot has a $1 million budget.