Coronavirus Delaware: Study Of New Castle County Wastewater Suggests 10 Times More People Infected Than Number Of Confirmed Cases
It suggests more than 15,000 people in the county have been infected with the coronavirus.
NEW CASTLE COUNTY, Del. (CBS) — A unique new study of sewer water in New Castle County estimates the number of people with COVID-19 is much higher than what’s been reported. The study examined traces of COVID-19 bacteria in wastewater.
The fight against COVID-19 has gone underground.
“Let’s be honest, taking samples from our sewer, from our sewer system, is never pretty,” New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer said.
Not pretty, no, but data collected from sewers has helped researchers track diseases in the past, so officials in New Castle County have now put their waste to work.
“We made this connection with Biobot Analytics, which is actually a startup company coming out of MIT. We are in their program, now we send them every week samples,” Meyer said.
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Biobot analyzes wastewater. In the case of COVID-19, the goal is to track traces of the virus found in waste to produce more accurate estimates of community infection rates without having to depend on the number of people who got tested.
“Just like you can measure antibody in blood, or measure viral DNA through a nasal swab, you can also measure a viral presence, a viral bacteria volume, through wastewater,” Meyer said.
As part of the program, New Castle County received its first results this week.
According to that sample: On April 15, approximately 3% of the county’s population north of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal had the virus. That’s a rate 15 times higher than confirmed positive tests produced on that same date.
“It’s communal wastewater, so of course it doesn’t tell us whether you or your next-door neighbor has the virus,” Meyer said.
But it could help point to asymptomatic carriers, specific areas of impact and eventually if widespread immunity is forming.
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It’s new technology not completely proven, according to officials. But it’s promising enough for New Castle County to commit to three more weeks of testing.
“We are already working with Biobot and trying to see how we can scale it for longer and also potentially test more treatment plants,” Meyer said.
The testing comes at no cost to the county. Well, except for the cost to ship the samples to the lab in Massachusetts.