MANSFIELD -- In a new 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 Mansfield sewershed which serves all Mansfield communities, according to a press release issued Tuesday from Richland Public Health. This trend is an early indicator that cases of COVID-19 in the community may be increasing.
Richland County has been operating in Level 2 (Orange) of the Ohio Public Health Advisory System since Sept. 17. It was at Levl 1 (Yellow) the previous four weeks.
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. However, 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.
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.
Over the past seven (7) days, levels in the Mansfield community have increased 750%, from 160,000 MGC/day* on Sept. 13 to 1.2 million MGC/day on Sept. 20. (*MGC/day = N2 [virus gene] Average per sample times Flowrate, divided by million and rounded to first two significant digits.).
"That's the increase of positive samples on COVID RNA (deceased genes) in the wastewater. It just means there's an increase in counts which translates to an increase in people who might well test positive with COVID-19. But it's not a direct one-to-one comparison," said Reed Richmond, information officer for Richland Public Health. "It's possible that much of the increase is accounted for by people who aren't showing symptoms, but never-the-less could infect someone else.
"A jump of that amount would indicate there's an active spread of COVID-19 in Mansfield and people need to be cautious and make sure they are practicing those things that help lessen the chance of getting the virus: washing hands, wearing masks, social distance and avoiding mass gatherings. Those are things we should already be doing, but this is another indicator we can use to warn people when COVID-19 is present and possible actively spreading. Think of it as a warning alarm."
The Ohio Coronavirus Wastewater Monitoring Network is a collaboration between the Ohio Department of Health (ODH), the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA), the Ohio Water Resources Center (Ohio WRC) at The Ohio State University, and other participating universities, including The University of Toledo, Kent State University, and The University of Akron.
For additional local data and details on the network and its monitoring methods, visit https://coronavirus.ohio.gov/wps/portal/gov/covid-19/dashboards/wastewater/wastewater.