Oregon State University has received a $1.2 million grant from the Oregon Health Authority to expand its Coronavirus Sewer Surveillance project throughout Oregon to comb community wastewater systems for genetic evidence of the virus that causes COVID-19.
The research team of the OSU College of Engineering will sample and analyze sewage weekly from 43 treatment plants around Oregon for the next 30 months – every plant outside of the Portland metro area that serves at least 6,000 people.
Sewer surveillance researchers took multiple samples in Bend over a two-week period in late May and early June and found them to be largely free of SARS-CoV-2 genetic material. When testing in Bend resumed July 23, they started to see positive signals of the virus. The signals were moderate, but definitely present and higher than what they had seen in early June. In Newport researchers saw a June outbreak at a fish processing plant and they have been taking sewage samples three times a week for the past two and a half months. Viral signals peaked on June 19. But the good news is they have been trending downward ever since June 19, and now they are at a moderate level, they’re going in the right direction, and that’s good to see, said one researcher.
In early July the sewer surveillance team studied wastewater samples in Hermiston in Umatilla County and Boardman in Morrow County. Both had extremely high viral counts in their wastewater. They sampled each city twice, with a two-week gap, and the signal remained high and did not decrease significantly over that time, indicating strong prevalence of COVID-19 in the communities. Additionally, in Hermiston and Boardman they detected strong viral signals throughout the communities, whereas in Newport it was more pockets of strong viral signals.
Hermiston is one of six northeastern Oregon cities that will receive weekly monitoring under the OHA grant; the others are Pendleton, Umatilla, Baker, La Grande and Ontario.