ASHTABULA — In an ongoing effort to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, a network across Ohio is studying samples of wastewater to look for the presence of fragments from the virus that causes the disease.
An upward trend of viral gene copies has been detected in the Ashtabula sewer-shed, which serves the city of Ashtabula and parts of Saybrook and Ashtabula Township.
“This seems to be consistent with a rise in cases within our county,” City Manager Jim Timonere said. “We urge people to not ease up and continue to follow the guidance of our state, federal and local health professionals.”
This emerging information is being used by the Ashtabula City and Ashtabula County health departments in conjunction with community case numbers and other COVID-19 related data to further inform decisions related to the pandemic. The health departments have alerted healthcare providers, nursing homes, and other shared-living facilities to be prepared for a potential increase in cases.
The increase of COVID-19 cases in communities is typically tracked by testing people with symptoms, an indicator that lags behind the actual spread of the disease.
Research has shown that non-infectious RNA (ribonucleic acid) from the virus that causes COVID-19 can be detected in wastewater as many as three to seven days before those infections lead to increases in case counts or hospitalizations. This means that monitoring raw wastewater in sewage collection systems can provide an early warning of disease increase in a community, Ashtabula City Health Commissioner Christine Hill said.
“It gives us a warning, a heads-up,” she said.
When interpreting this specific viral data in wastewater, it is only appropriate to monitor and observe the trends of viral gene copies detected in a community over time, not individual readings themselves. The Ashtabula wastewater treatment plant has demonstrated a sustained increase recorded from March 23-30.
Timonere praised Hill and her staff for their hard work during this crisis.