Mayor discusses testing wastewater for COVID-19 hotspots

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- City leaders are discussing more COVID-19 testing options as the virus continues to impact Houston and surrounding areas.

Experts said they are researching a new, innovative way to help identify virus hotspots by testing wastewater in neighborhoods. If the virus can be targeted to one specific area, health officials believe it could be quicker to contain and treat.

SEE ALSO: City of Houston plans to test human waste for COVID-19 hot spots

Mayor Sylvester Turner said a team has been testing for the presence of the virus in wastewater since May from Houston's 39 treatment plants and believes it could work on a larger scale, since most people reportedly shed the virus in their feces, even if they don't have any symptoms.

Once a week, samples are collected from a wastewater treatment plant once every hour, for 24 hours. The results are then analyzed against previous week's data.

Chief environmental science officer for the city of Houston, Dr. Lauren Hopkins, said the wastewater analysis program is a collaborative effort with Rice and Baylor universities.

"To go in and actually take samples from, say the wastewater discharged from a nursing home or a specific a neighborhood, even prisons," said Hopkins. "It would allow for more targeted testing."

Mayor Turner said that if a resurgence would occur, wastewater testing would be a more cost-effective option to mass testing. He also reminded residents that this is not a replacement for individual COVID-19 test and that all Houstonians should go get tested.
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