Wastewater in Oklahoma City tested for COVID-19 to predict outbreaks

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Researchers from the University of Oklahoma are going underground with the City of Oklahoma City to monitor coronavirus outbreaks in the city before they happen by testing wastewater.

It’s the same type of study that’s been happening on OU’s campus.

Researchers from the University of Oklahoma and OU Health have been testing sewage in Oklahoma City for COVID-19 for a few months now.


“It’s increasing across the city as you can imagine – quite, well pretty, alarming,” said Bradley Stevenson, an associate professor at the OU Department of Microbiology and Plant Biology. 

In addition to 15 manhole sites across the city, samples are also collected from the city’s four wastewater treatment plants.

Experts say the data gives them a 5- to 7-day window before cases are reported to get a jump start on tackling outbreaks.

“Because when you get COVID, it doesn’t take but a few days for you to start shedding the virus even before you show symptoms, if you do show symptoms,” Stevenson said. 

The findings also help the city’s public health strategy.

“To find a solution that improves the tools that we have in our toolbox to respond to the pandemic,” said Halley Reeves, Vice President, Community Health Impact at OU Health.

Knowing where and when COVID-19 is spreading can help officials determine the effectiveness of public health guidance and know where more resources, like testing and vaccines, should be allocated.

“Then hopefully we can watch it subside once we’re past this surge and the vaccine gets out and then we can start monitoring outbreaks again,” Stevenson said.

The City of Oklahoma City allocated $535,000 of CARES Act funding for this research.

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