MOSCOW - During the month of May, the City of Moscow applied for, and was accepted to participate in a subsidized program to test for the presence of COVID-19 in wastewater. Biobot Analytics, a company that previously studied opioids in wastewater, initiated a program to track COVID-19 in wastewater.
Biobot has developed a process to identify, replicate, and measure the concentration of the viral RNA (ribonucleic acid) within a given wastewater sample. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Biobot has analyzed COVID-19 prevalence in roughly 400 cities across America.
Throughout May, Moscow provided weekly test samples, with the first three tests resulting in no detectable COVID-19. Then on June 16, the City received the results for the fourth test on May 27. This sample reportedly showed a concentration which Biobot used to estimate 190 cases of COVID-19 in the community. Following this, the City then ordered another test kit to verify the May 27 results, and notified the Public Health of the outcome of the test. The follow-up verification tests were completed on July 1.
On July 9, the City received the results for the follow-up sample collected on July 1. This sample showed a marked increase in concentrations, which Biobot used to estimate 1,400 cases in the community.
Biobot states that its methods for detecting SARS-CoV-2 in sewage are adapted from CDC protocols and relies on detecting genetic fragments of the virus that are excreted in stool, which does not determine if the virus is dead or active. Biobot's methodology is available at www.biobot.io/covid19.
Estimating cases based on concentration is an emerging science, and there are reportedly several variables that could impact accuracy, especially in a smaller system like Moscow's. These include: rain events, daily flow variations, cleaning of sewer lines, etc.
"It is important to note that the Biobot data provides estimates, not actual cases. While we can't rely on the accuracy of the case estimation, the thing that is certain is that we are seeing significantly increased concentrations of COVID-19 in our wastewater," said Gary Riedner, Moscow City Supervisor. "We will continue to monitor levels in our wastewater, and continue to share the results with the healthcare professionals. We are sharing information with the Idaho North Central District Health Department and appreciate their collaboration. These results underscore the need for increased efforts in hygiene, such as washing your hands and not touching your eyes, nose, mouth and face, practicing social distancing of at least six feet apart from all but household members, and wearing face coverings to help prevent community spread of COVID-19."
The area served by the Moscow Water Reclamation and Reuse Facility serves the area within Moscow City limits and the Southeast Moscow Sewer District located just outside of Moscow east city limit boundary. Testing will continue under collaboration with the University of Idaho.