OU researchers to begin testing Oklahoma City wastewater samples for COVID-19

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Researchers from the University of Oklahoma are teaming up with the City of Oklahoma City to investigate the prevalence of COVID-19 in the community.

Twice a week, OU researchers will collect wastewater samples from the city’s four wastewater treatment plants and 15 residential manhole sites across the city.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, many people infected with COVID-19 shed the virus in their waste before developing symptoms. Because of this fact, many researchers across the globe are turning their attention to sewage.

OU began implementing this approach on the Norman campus earlier in the fall semester, and the same researchers are using this technique with the wastewater samples collected in Oklahoma City.

“Wastewater sampling affords valuable lead time that can be used to stem further transmission of COVID-19,” said OU associate professor of microbiology Bradley Stevenson, who leads the OU research team. “At OU, our wastewater research is being used to complement other surveillance measures the university has in place. Our research team looks forward to extending this important initiative to the City of Oklahoma City.”

Over time, researchers say the results will help city leaders know how the virus is changing in the population.

“This project will catapult Oklahoma City into a top tier of Smart Cities, and we’re confident this data will help guide public health measures in directly targeting testing, vaccine and other interventions toward the citizens who are most impacted by the virus at any given time period,” said Phil Maytubby, chief operating officer of the Oklahoma City-County Health Department.

To obtain the samples, OU researchers use a refrigerated automatic sampler to collect a representative wastewater sample from the sewage system over a 24-hour time period, amounting to about two gallons a day.

The research team then tests the samples for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 genetic material, which is the virus that causes COVID-19.

City leaders say they allocated $535,000 of CARES funding to support the research.

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