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County and Vero not testing wastewater for coronavirus


Utilities around the U.S., including in Miami-Dade County, are testing their wastewater for the presence of the virus that causes COVID-19 in order to protect utility workers who might be exposed to the disease, predict potential hot spots and new outbreaks as the country reopens, and corroborate the results of swab tests administered to people.

But right now, neither Indian River County nor the city of Vero Beach has any plans to follow suit – both citing cost and reliability issues.

Since March, Miami-Dade's water and sewer authority has been sending wastewater samples to Boston-based Biobot to be tested for the coronavirus. Department director Doug Yoder told the Miami Herald the analysis isn’t reliable yet as a tracking tool for the disease’s prevalence in the community. But he said it could be useful in predicting hot spots or a resurgence of outbreaks in the future.     

Biobot CEO Mariana Matus told the health news website STAT that the company is working with about 400 wastewater utilities in 42 states, trying to get more precise estimates of the number of infections. Matus told STAT that testing wastewater “offers the opportunity to provide near real-time trend data to evaluate the impact of policymaking” – such as reopening schools and workplaces.

But Biobot testing is expensive – “thousands per sample,” according to Vero Beach water and sewer director Rob Bolton, who added that more research is needed “to see if it could be a tool for the future to predict hot spots based on lift station basins."

Added Vero Beach city manager Monte Falls in an email to Vero Beach 32963: “We are not planning any of this testing at this point due to the fact that a protocol has not been established to guide the testing and the cost. We will continue to follow this to see if it proves to be helpful.”

Indian River County offered a similar response to the prospect of testing wastewater for COVID-19.       

“If the state wants to pursue that, if it becomes a more prevalent practice in the industry, the county might consider it,” spokesman Brian Sullivan said.