July 13, 2020 (Moscow, Idaho) -- The City of Moscow applied for, and was accepted to participate in a subsidized program to test for the presence of COVID-19 in wastewater. Biobot Analytics, a company that previously studied opioids in wastewater, initiated a program to track COVID-19 in wastewater. Biobot developed a process to identify, replicate, and measure the concentration of the viral RNA (ribonucleic acid) within a given wastewater sample. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Biobot has analyzed COVID-19 prevalence in roughly 400 cities across America.
Biobot states that its methods for detecting SARS-CoV-2 in sewage are adapted from CDC protocols and relies on detecting genetic fragments of the virus that are excreted in stool, which does not determine if the virus is dead or active. Biobot's methodology is available at www.biobot.io/covid19.
During the month of May, Moscow provided weekly test samples. The first three tests resulted in no detectable COVID-19. On Jun. 16, the City received the results for the May 27 test. This sample showed a concentration which Biobot used to estimate 190 cases of COVID-19 in the community. The City ordered another test kit to verify the May 27 results, and notified the Public Health of the outcome of the test.
On Jul. 9, the City received the results for the follow-up sample collected on Jul. 1. This sample showed a marked increase in concentrations, which Biobot used to estimate 1,400 cases in the community. Estimating cases based on concentration is an emerging science, and there are several variables that could impact accuracy, especially in a smaller system like Moscow's. These include: rain events, daily flow variations, cleaning of sewer lines, etc.
"It is important to note that the Biobot data provides estimates, not actual cases. While we can't rely on the accuracy of the case estimation, the thing that is certain is that we are seeing significantly increased concentrations of COVID-19 in our wastewater," said Gary Riedner, Moscow City Supervisor. "We will continue to monitor levels in our wastewater, and continue to share the results with the healthcare professionals. We are sharing information with the Idaho North Central District Health Department and appreciate their collaboration. These results underscore the need for increased efforts in hygiene, such as washing your hands and not touching your eyes, nose, mouth and face, practicing social distancing of at least six feet apart from all but household members, and wearing face coverings to help prevent community spread of COVID-19."
The area served by the Moscow Water Reclamation and Reuse Facility serves the area within Moscow City limits and the Southeast Moscow Sewer District located just outside of Moscow east city limit boundary. Testing will continue under collaboration with the University of Idaho. The Biological Sciences and Civil & Environmental Engineering Departments at the U of I, utilizing funding from the IMCI (Institute for Modeling Collaboration and Interaction), are initiating a regional wastewater testing program with plans to start processing samples within two weeks.
Story Contact: Gary J. Riedner, City Supervisor