The Oklahoma City-County Health Department is tracking COVID-19 in an unique way, through the sewer system.
The research team, made up of several different organizations, said tracking COVID-19 through wastewater can pinpoint a hotspot within a city before an outbreak happens. Those outbreaks can be predicted a week in advance. Virus mutations can also be detected.
OU Medicine's Vice President of Community Health Impact Halley Reeves said tracking COVID via wastewater is the most accurate way to show virus activity in large populations. A hotspot can be whittled down from an entire city's population to just a few thousand. According to researchers, having a specific place on a map helps determine where more testing sites need to be. Vaccine distribution is impacted as well.
"So, if we had a particular part of town that we have a new strain in that seems to be prolific, we may start to focus our vaccine efforts in that specific location," said OCCHD's Chief Operating Officer Phil Maytubby. "So this is very, very useful technology."
"It allows us to look at the evolution of the virus in our city and really better understand how effective our mitigation efforts are," Reeves said.
Wastewater samples are taken twice a week.
Throughout Oklahoma, five municipalities are taking part in the research.