Carmel turns to wastewater to track prevalence of COVID-19

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The City of Carmel is turning to wastewater to measure the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic in the community.

Carmel is using Boston-based Biobot to test samples collected from the wastewater system to determine how much of the community has an active COVID-19 case. The virus can be detected in fecal matter as early as three days after infection, even before common symptoms of the disease emerge.

Many people with COVID-19 don’t have symptoms at all and are never tested for the disease, so the Biobot totals are expected to be higher than the number of cases confirmed by traditional testing.

“The hope of this study is that we may find that wastewater monitoring could provide an early warning of outbreaks of the virus in a community, which would be an important tool to avoid a second-wave of the pandemic,” Carmel Utilities Director John Duffy stated in a press release. “Even as we see individuals tested more frequently, monitoring sewers could alert public health officials of a coming wave of infections.”

Biobot is already conducting COVID-19 testing in 270 facilities in 40 states, which represents approximately 10 percent of the U.S. population. It hopes to eventually test samples from more than 10,000 cities.

After analyzing samples, Biobot provides a report with an estimated number of people in the community infected with COVID-19.

Carmel will pay $120 per weekly test in May, with the price increasing to $1,200 per sample in June.

Carmel treats an average of 10.9 million gallons of wastewater each day, with 1.45 million gallons per day coming from Westfield.


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