CLEVELAND, OH — If sampling from two Northeast Ohio wastewater treatment plants serves as a predictor, the region may be on the cusp of another surge in COVID-19 cases.
Since July, the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District has been sending samples of its wastewater to the state as part of a program monitoring for fragments of the virus in sewage.
Researchers believe the virus fragments may be an early indicator of coronavirus infection rates in the community.
"People start shedding the RNA [from the virus] anywhere from three to 10 days before they may get ill," said Scott Broski, superintendent of Environmental Services for NEORSD. "And in some cases, they may never become ill, they could be asymptomatic."
This week, the state reported finding record-high levels of the virus at both the district's easterly and westerly treatment plants.
In both cases, Broski said the state found a ten-fold increase in samples since Thanksgiving.
A spokesman for the Cuyahoga County Board of Health said in terms of applying the data, the department feels the sampling would be most useful as an early warning alert.
But Broski believes it's still still soon to know if their sampling results will correspond to another wave of COVID-19 patients in the days or weeks to come.
"How far in front of it are we? That’s that question," said Broski. "How far of a leading indicator is it, or is it more of a confirming indication? How much more illness will there be? All unknown."
The sewer district sent another set of samples to the state today. Results are expected later this week.