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Local health officials increasing wastewater surveillance to detect COVID-19

Virus Outbreak Surveillance wastewater covid 19
Patrick Orsagos/AP
FILE - Emily Lu, a student in the environment science graduate program at Ohio State, tries to extract ribonucleic acid (RNA) from wastewater samples to test for fragments of the coronavirus, March 23, 2022 at a school lab in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Patrick Orsagos)

The Department of Health expects to add two staffers to its wastewater monitoring team as it works to make sewage surveillance data available online to the public.

Wastewater sampling can be used to track outbreaks of COVID-19 and other viruses. Similar surveillance projects for monkeypox are underway in several states, and polio was recently detected in wastewater samples in New York City.

Maria Steadmon is a fellow with the Association of Public Health Laboratories. She’s working with the Hawai‘i Department of Health’s wastewater management team—with COVID-19 as the priority.

"Some of the wastewater treatment plants that we have are the largest in the state, and we would like to increase participation, and we're also looking to set up sampling outside of a correctional facility, for example, or a nursing home so that we can get surveillance of these facilities as well," Steadmon.

"We're working really hard in the lab verifying our protocols so that we can do it more efficiently on-site and get those results almost instantly, right after we're finished processing," she told HPR.

The Department of Health currently partners with 15 wastewater treatment plants across the state to collect samples.

This interview aired on The Conversation on Aug. 12, 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
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