WATERTOWN — An early-warning wastewater testing system has been developed for COVID-19, and Jefferson County will be using it shortly.
The county will be working with Quadrant Biosciences from Syracuse to test samples of wastewater from the city of Watertown’s sewer system once per week.
“We’ll test once a week to get an ongoing measuring tool to see what’s taking place,” said Jefferson County Administrator Robert F. Hagemann III.
Developed by SUNY ESF, Upstate Medical University and Syracuse University, the wastewater test can detect the presence of the COVID-19 virus in a community two weeks before any residents begin to present signs of infection, according to documentation provided by the universities. Quadrant is the contracting and analysis agent for the universities in rolling this testing platform out to organizations and governments.
According to the universities’ documentation, this “early warning” system has the advantage of not relying on an infected person seeking treatment, which usually only happens when that person begins to feel symptoms or has a work requirement to get tested.
The tests costs $250 per sample tested, and the county is currently planning to have a single sample taken per week.
The system can only catch infections that arise in areas that access the wastewater system the sample is taken from, which means that for the moment, only infections in the city of Watertown will be caught.
“Tapping the city wastewater system means we’re reaching out to about 55,000 people, so in one instance we have half the [county] population covered,” Mr. Hagemann said. He said that it would be possible to roll the testing out to smaller communities around the county and to test septic systems in the future, but there are no plans currently to do that.
“If something starts to surface and we do some more research, and start to determine that there’s a location within the county that may be more of a hotspot, or something merits further study, we can take the steps to move in that direction as well.”
The county Board of Legislators voted to pass the measure Tuesday and the agreement is set to go into effect Wednesday.