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Washington health officials launch new COVID-19 monitoring program, wastewater testing

Centers for Disease Control

There are still delays for Covid testing through medical facilities, and the results of popular at-home tests often aren’t reported to health officials. So Washington health care leaders are looking at another way to track the spread of the virus: sewage. Spokane is one of several pilot communities for the project.

In a few weeks, Spokane will have its first batch of results from a state wastewater testing program. While the project comes too late to provide insight on the latest omicron surge, Spokane Regional Health Officer Dr. Francisco Velazquez says it could be an essential tool to anticipate future coronavirus waves, or in identifying outbreaks of other diseases.

"It works initially as an early warning system, or an early warning surveillance system," he said. "Because it tells you a few days before you start to see presence in the community, that you have increased amounts of the virus."

Velazquez says Washington’s wastewater testing cannot yet identify the presence of variants, but he hopes that capability will come soon. A Washington Department of Health spokesperson said Spokane is one of several cities across the state enrolled in the wastewater testing program.

Rebecca White is a 2018 graduate of Edward R Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. She's been a reporter at Spokane Public Radio since February 2021. She got her start interning at her hometown paper The Dayton Chronicle and previously covered county government at The Spokesman-Review.
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