Cary sewage being analyzed to monitor the spread of COVID-19

CARY, N.C. (WTVD) -- Whenever you flush a toilet in your home the wastewater ultimately flows to a treatment plant.

The Town of Cary has two of those plants and right now they are collecting some important information.

FULL CORONAVIRUS COVERAGE

"It's really amazing and it's so basic all at the same time. We think it is very exciting," Cary's spokesperson Susan Moran said.

Moran says wastewater samples are being sent to BioBot Analytics, a Boston based company that examines wastewater epidemiology. It's the same company that analyzed the town's wastewater to determine the extent of opioid use.

Biobot's founders realized in February that their methods might help in the fight against COVID-19.

"When it was first reported that the virus was shed in stool and detectable in stool samples, we knew that we had to adapt our technology to be able to apply it to the outbreak," said Mariana Matus, the CEO of Biobot.

Matus says the analysis isn't really all that complicated.

Scientists have already calculated what amount of virus the average infected person sheds.

Biobot will use that figure along with the concentrations of the virus they find in the wastewater to estimate how widespread infections are in our area and across the country.

The company says it is currently sampling from more than 160 treatment plants in 36 states.

The daily monitoring of infection levels will not only provide valuable data for right now but in the months to come.

"We imagine that we could provide an early warning system for a second wave of the virus, for the reemergence of it over the next 12 to 24 months," Matus said.

Like the town of Cary, a City of Raleigh spokesperson says the city has agreed to send samples of wastewater to scientists at North Carolina State University who are expected to announce their collaboration on a similar project soon.

Biobot welcomes the additional effort and hopes all the wastewater studies will use a similar methodology.

That's why they made theirs public according to Matus who said, "We're also sharing all of that information in the hope that we can compare as much as possible results across studies."

The Town of Cary welcomes the other studies too.

"Some of the best minds are trying figure out how this might be helpful to stop the global pandemic," Moran said.

She believes Cary is on the cutting edge of what might be one of the biggest breakthroughs in the fight against COVID-19.

"This is the science-technology human condition challenge of our time," she said.

And hopefully a challenge we can meet with the help of something many never considered valuable before now - human waste.
Copyright © 2020 WTVD-TV. All Rights Reserved.