Wastewater samples the key to detecting Covid hotspots

With so many people now taking at-home COVID-19 tests, some are worried the state's newest figures do not tell the whole story. That's why many local health departments are using your waste to track the virus.

As Covid cases start to increase across the country, Washtenaw County is also seeing an uptick.

"We’ve been seeing a little bit of an increase in cases right now," said Susan Ringler Cerniglia, Washtenaw County Health Department. "It’s not unusual that we see some increase in cases after spring break."

But county health officials understand that thanks to at-home testing, all positive test results are not always reported to the county.

So Washtenaw County, along with several other counties and universities in the state, are using wastewater to help them gauge the true Covid infection rate in their area.

"Even though we know there’s a lot of home testing going on, we do have a good testing and surveillance that happens at our universities and some of our providers, so that the waste water where people don’t have to be tested, we are seeing it in the waste water.  "We are really mirroring the same trends," said Cerniglia.

In September of last year FOX 2 was there when wastewater samples were collected on the campus of Eastern Michigan University so researchers can analyze fecal matter to identify possible COVID-19 hotspots.

The University of Michigan is also collecting wastewater samples, and on Wednesday FOX 2 caught with a professional involved in the process who spoke about why the data is so beneficial.

"Asymptomatic patients get the virus but are not being tested so all this missing information can be captured by wastewater testing," said  Professor Chanwu Xi, environmental health sciences at the School of Public Health.

But public health officials say the best way to beat this virus and stop it from spreading is to get vaccinated and boosted

"That really is our best protection against severe illness," said Cerniglia.