County Seeks To Monitor Wastewater For COVID-19

Chautauqua County is looking to test wastewater for COVID-19, although when it will begin is still up in the air.

During the February Human Services Committee meeting, Bill Boria with the county Health Department, discussed the Wastewater Surveillance Mentorship Pilot Program. He said the county wants to test water inside treatment plants for COVID-19. The samples will be collected weekly and immediately shipped to labs. The labs test wastewater for COVID-19 and quantifies the amount of virus per liter.

Boria said the testing will provide an early warning system. “Wastewater, it turns out, is going to show the presence of the virus four to seven days before someone could have symptoms,” he said.

Boria said the monitoring will help hospitals and health care professionals better plan for changing caseloads. “Basically we’re using this to identify trends in the community. Is COVID increasing, decreasing, staying the same, or is it there at all?” he said.

Boria said the monitoring will take place in both Jamestown and Dunkirk. “We chose those areas because those are the biggest populations in the county,” he said.

Boria said by testing wastewater at plants in the two cities, there is no way for them to be able to know what individuals, homes or neighborhoods have the virus. They have no plans to test wastewater outside of people’s homes. Theoretically, they could test at smaller wastewater plants, but the goals is to find trends, which requires larger populations.

He said a similar program is underway in Erie County, N.Y.

Funding for the testing program comes from the state Department of Health and the National Association of County and City Health Officials.

Once the results are in, the county plans on posting the results on a website. If there was a large increase, that information would be used to issue warnings and advise people to take additional precautions.

County officials previously approved the Wastewater Surveillance Mentorship Pilot Program. However, lawmakers were asked to adjust the budget for the program during its February meeting. That resolution was tabled.

According to Legislature Chairman Pierre Chagnon, some legislators objected to the resolution because it did not spell out where the testing would take place. He did note that even though Boria said the monitoring would only take place in the Jamestown and Dunkirk treatment plants, that was not specified in the resolution.

It is expected the resolution will be modified and brought back at the March legislature meeting.

Boria said during the February meeting, they were hoping to start monitoring as soon as a contract was in place. Chagnon said he wasn’t sure if the tabled resolution would delay the monitoring or not.


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