The city is starting to test wastewater (yes, sewage) for COVID-19. Here’s why.

The city has begun to test wastewater for coronavirus as part of a monitoring program.
The city has begun to test wastewater for coronavirus as part of a monitoring program.(City and county of Honolulu)
Published: May. 19, 2020 at 5:34 PM HST|Updated: May. 19, 2020 at 5:37 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - As part of an aggressive new testing strategy, the city plans to not only test lots more people for COVID-19 — they intend to start testing wastewater.

The city announced Tuesday that it’s participating in a COVID-19 Wastewater Testing Project with dozens of other states to test sewage for the presence of the virus. The testing is designed to monitor for possible increases in COVID-19 cases in particular communities or on the island as a whole.

The city Department of Environmental Services has already collected its first round of samples and sent them off for a “baseline.” Going forward, tests will be conducted weekly for at least two months.

People with COVID-19 “shed” the virus in their feces, so wastewater tests could conceivably prove a powerful tool in spotting surges in cases. But sewage tests can’t be traced back to their source.

And because treatment plants bring in wastewater from multiple communities, these tests won’t be community-specific.

But Mayor Kirk Caldwell described the tests as an “additional tool we now have in our pocket.”

The pilot project costs $25,000 and is being funded with federal stimulus money.

The testing program comes as the state seeks to reopen the economy safely. A strong tests and contact tracing program, Caldwell said, can quickly spot upticks in cases and isolate them.

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