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Hawaiʻi is ramping up wastewater surveillance for COVID-19


As students return to campus, the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa plans to resume wastewater surveillance for COVID-19 in its dormitories.

Priscilla Seabourn, with the Department of Health’s Diagnostic Lab, says that supply chain issues have created roadblocks to get wastewater monitoring up and running in Hawaiʻi.

But it can be a critical tool in identifying outbreaks early, even in an era of a decline in cases, she said.

"When we start seeing an increase in the presence of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater, this kind of gives us a sign that there's going to be an increase in clinical samples four days prior. So it can be really used as a tool to understand the patterns of SARS-CoV-2 transmission in a population," Seabourn said.

UH Mānoa previously piloted wastewater monitoring at some of its dorms, including Frear Hall and the Hale Aloha Towers, but the project has been on pause.

Seabourn says the state has agreements with Maui and Hawaiʻi counties to start monitoring wastewater more broadly.

In his State of the Union address, President Joe Biden identified widespread wastewater surveillance as a crucial component of combating COVID-19.

This interview with Seabourn and Doris Di, a post-doctoral university researcher, aired on The Conversation on March 7, 2022. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

Catherine Cruz is the host of The Conversation. Originally from Guam, she spent more than 30 years at KITV, covering beats from government to education. Contact her at ccruz@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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