A statewide wastewater research study to assess the prevalence of coronavirus in communities found levels of the virus that mostly mirrored changes in positive COVID-19 test results.

The correlation means wastewater testing could help researchers track the spread of the virus if testing of people is lacking.

Since August, City of Bloomington Utilities has participated in a study of 14 Indiana communities with colleges to test the prevalence of COVID-19 via wastewater sample testing. The study, funded by the Indiana Finance Authority, tested prevalence of coronavirus RNA in stool samples. Tests were done at labs at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend and Microbac Laboratories in Indianapolis. Communities in Steuben, Johnson, Putnam, Vigo, Kosciusko, Montgomery, Huntington, Delaware, Wabash, Wayne, St. Joseph, Porter and Tippecanoe counties also participated.

Vic Kelson, director of CBU, said the city began collecting samples in late June and searching for a laboratory to partner for the research before the Indiana Finance Authority invited the local utilities company to join its study.

“Great minds think alike,” Kelson said. “We had samples frozen waiting to go to a lab, and then we got this opportunity to join this larger program. You don’t turn down an opportunity to participate in breakthrough research in your own state.”

Bloomington had the most sample locations of each of the 14 communities involved, testing at eight manholes, the city’s two wastewater treatment plants and the lift station on Smith Avenue that serves part of the Indiana University campus and downtown Bloomington.
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