DEQ says wastewater helps researchers better understand COVID-19 trends in Utah communities

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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – Sewer shed samples are one way to detect possible COVID-19 trends. And the Utah Department of Environmental Quality continues to collect samples of about 80% of Utah’s population.

“You can’t go house to house. You can’t sample everybody,” said Jared Mendenhall, a spokesperson for DEQ. “But, by sampling wastewater, you can get an idea of what is going on community wide. A big umbrella of what infection rates look like.”

Data collected from 42 of Utah’s sewer plants show recent trends throughout the state.

Areas marked in green suggest a decrease of COVID-19 in sewage, and areas in red suggest an increase.

“We’re working with other wastewater treatment facilities across the state to monitor what’s happening with the coronavirus and that influent that’s coming into the wastewater,” Mendenhall said.

In regard to COVID-19 sewage decrease and increase locations throughout the state, Mendenhall said they rely on the Utah Department of Health to translate what it means for specific regions. The health department was unavailable for comment.

Researchers throughout the state are in collaboration with the DEQ. Mendenhall said the purpose behind these tracing efforts aims to help public health officials to better understand COVID-19.

“One thing we’ve noticed is that in recreation spots like Park City, Moab, that they have a disproportionate level of coronavirus versus other rural areas with smaller populations,” Mendenhall said. “So, we’ve been able to see some interesting trends.”

Mendenhall said this testing has been going on since the early stages of the pandemic. He said their data has proven to be a successful resource.

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