Cedar Rapids wastewater samples show higher COVID concentration in recent weeks

“This could imply that there are a higher number of COVID cases in our community than reported to Linn County Public Health”

The Cedar Rapids Water Pollution Control Facility in an aerial photograph in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday May 14, 2014 (The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS – Sewage from Cedar Rapids may indicate the spread of the coronavirus is more pronounced than COVID-19 test rates show.

Since last summer, the city of Cedar Rapids has been testing its wastewater as part of a national study that aims to track the spread of the new coronavirus and its variants.

Detection of the coronavirus generally correlates with Linn County public health data on the latest infection rates among residents. However, in recent weeks, the standardized virus concentration in sewage is “more pronounced than the number of cases reported by Linn County Public Health,” according to utility director Roy Hesemann.

“This could imply that there is a higher number of COVID cases in our community than reported to Linn County Public Health, but we don’t know for sure,” Hesemann said in a statement.

The normalized coronavirus concentration rate has increased exponentially over the past month as new COVID-19 cases have increased locally and statewide, reaching levels not seen since December 2020.

The normalized coronavirus concentration is a value derived by adjusting the level of dilution of industrial waste from samples taken at the water pollution control facility.

On December 6, it peaked at 2,037,320 units per liter of wastewater before dropping to 1,583,942 units on December 13.

By comparison, samples reached a minimum of 296,214 copies per liter of wastewater on November 8. The first sample taken on June 7 gave 56,638 copies per liter of wastewater.

As of Tuesday, there were 3,470 cases of COVID-19 as well as 70 hospitalizations in Linn County, according to local public health officials. The seven-day average for new cases is around 138, an increase from the seven-day average of 80 reported two months ago by Linn County Public Health.

Since last June, Cedar Rapids and other municipalities across the country have participated in a national study by sampling wastewater to understand the extent of the presence of the coronavirus in these communities. In doing so, researchers hope to generate more precise public health responses in the next phase of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study, which monitors the wastewater of more than 100 million Americans, is being led by Boston-based wastewater epidemiology company, Biobot Analytics, in partnership with federal health officials.

Des Moines is also participating in the federal study.

Biobot Analytics said in a statement that as variants of the coronavirus continue to emerge and fatigue from COVID-19 testing increases nationwide, monitoring for viruses through wastewater sampling may help complete clinical tests.

Nationally, the normalized concentration of coronavirus continued to rise over the past month, reaching 1,297.8 copies per milliliter of sewage, or 33.9 cases per 100,000 people, as of December 3. As of December 8, the country reached 1,568.2 copies per milliliter of wastewater. , according to Biobot Analytics.

The University of Iowa is also piloting a program to test wastewater at its Iowa City campus to better understand coronavirus clusters among the student body.

Sampling began last February in the sewer lines under two residences, Mayflower and Daum.

UI Facilities Management launched the program in partnership with Engie North America, the university’s new private utility operator; Student health; University accommodation and catering; the College of Public Health; and the State Hygiene Laboratory.

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