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The unusual place where Twin Falls is tracing COVID-19

Posted at 5:53 PM, Aug 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-21 20:22:50-04

TWIN FALLS — When you think about being tested for COVID-19, you usually think about going to a hospital, but Twin Falls is partnering with a research team at the University of Idaho to trace COVID-19 through the city's wastewater system.

"The idea is that we can potentially generate data that would help a community get ahead of an emerging infection," Erik Coats, a wastewater engineer at the University of Idaho, said.

Coats says since there are cases of people being asymptomatic when they are COVID-19 positive, they are hoping using wastewater epidemiology will help them detect an outbreak in cities where people may not be showing any symptoms.

"Ever since I started on this, I felt like since it's a potential early warning device, it will give them an early warning of an outbreak, and it could help a community communicate better," Coats said.

Not only are they hoping to work with cities throughout Idaho, but they are also hoping to work with hospitals and even universities to detect COVID-19 outbreaks.

"One thing we've talked about is setting up a sampling station in the sanitary sewer station outside of the dorms. Then we can identify, ok, this dorm is starting to see an uptick, and the university can respond," Coats said.

So far, the research team has samples from Twin Falls and Moscow and are hoping to get more cities to participate.

"Our wastewater tells us a lot about our behavior. It tells us what we're doing, what we're eating, what we're drinking, what illnesses we might have. The idea here is anything we can do to contribute to or generate more data and more knowledge on an outbreak potentially huge," Coats said.