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One way to potentially track Covid-19? Sewage surveillance

Credit: Jason Hawkes/Getty Images
Apr 7 2020

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In the News


Nasa Sinnott-Armstrong, a graduate student at Stanford, does not have much experience as a sewage courier—normally, they’re busy studying genetics. But as with many of us, the pandemic is upending routines. Since early March, Sinnott-Armstrong has been making the rounds of the Bay Area’s wastewater treatment plants, collecting samples that may offer clues to Covid-19’s spread around the region.

Sinnott-Armstrong (who uses the pronoun they) does their work with care because: sewage. But also for the protection of the utility workers, who keep the sewers safely swirling while everyone shelters in place. That means wearing protective gear and filling out a medical questionnaire on arrival. In return, they receive a plastic bottle filled with untreated sewage, an extra sample set aside by the workers during routine quality checks. “They seem excited to help,” Sinnott-Armstrong says. “But we’re trying to ask them to do as little extra work as possible, especially right now.”

Read the entire article featuring research by Faculty Affiliate Alexandria Boehm in WIRED.