Macomb County rolls out pilot program to test sewage for coronavirus

Macomb County wants to test your poop for coronavirus. 

As the state gets a better hold on the pandemic, the county public works division wants to identify hotspots of COVID-19 by testing sewage in different parts of the municipality

"We're starting a pilot program that will test our sewers," said Commissioner Candice Miller in a video. "We're going to be going down into the manholes."

While research on the virus is still novel, scientists have prioritized tests for COVID-19 in stool samples, which have proven a reliable source for officials looking to learn more about it. Even more so, wastewater and sewage testing can act as a promising way to track the virus.

Testing of this design is a form of contract tracing, considered a necessity for states looking to reopen their economies. Macomb County is embracing the practice as a means to better understand where the virus is present in the area. 

"Because quite frankly, if you do have COVID you could be shedding this virus and when you do so, it goes down your toilet," Miller said. "It's like taking a blood test - let's just be biological here for a moment"

Work will start in Clinton Township. From there, officials will test the sewage of seven different regions within the township for coronavirus. The tests will be done twice a week.

From there, samples will be specially packaged and sent to Oakland County or universities within the state for testing. If the pilot project is successful, the county plans to expand it to include other cities and townships. The pilot project is budgeted at $1 million.

While testing sewage below neighborhoods won't identify the house a positive sample originated from, it can identify hotspots within the county. If more coronavirus is being confirmed in the sewage of one neighborhood and not the other, then health officials can prioritize resources in those areas.

“I want to applaud Public Works Commissioner Miller’s willingness to partner with us on the COVID Early Warning System," said Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel. "This inventive approach to public health will develop a pilot early notification of COVID-19 indicators within our wastewater system. Partnering with our health department and university experts we are exploring a state-of-the-art water sampling technique to expand our understanding of the spread of COVID-19.”

As more results come in, the health department will create a heat map that can express where COVID-19 is concentrated. 

Testing is expected to start at the end of June or the first part of July. It's paid for by the CARES Act, the federal relief package aimed at helping residents and governments better handle the virus.

“Obviously, this isn’t something our engineers ever thought they would be working on, but our team jumped on this right away and put together a solid plan, utilizing the expertise of our local universities. We believe this project can provide critically needed information to our health care professionals,” said Miller.