Stafford is participating in a cutting edge pilot program designed to use technology to analyze biological data from wastewater to help identify and predict the spread of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases.

The county is one of only four sites in Virginia participating in this national study with a team of researchers from Biobot Analytics, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. The study will enable communities to measure the scope of the outbreak, the effectiveness of public health outreach and anticipate any possible reduction in hotspots.

“If coronavirus had taught us anything, it is that you can never have enough tools to fight a public health crisis,” said Director of Stafford Public Works Jason Towery. “This technology has the potential to assist with heading off and preventing outbreaks of disease.”

The way it works is sewage contains valuable information on human health, since viruses, bacteria and chemical metabolites are excreted in urine and stool. In some diseases, people can expel viruses before they even show symptoms, meaning sewage can provide an early indicator of disease spread before people start seeking healthcare.

For the pilot program, Biobot sent testing kits and protocols to both wastewater treatment plants in Stafford County in late April 2020. Plant managers collected 24-hour composite samples and sent them to the Biobot laboratories for testing. As well, follow-up testing will be performed. Keep in mind that about 25-30% of county residents are not on county water or sewer.

As county officials wait on final results, Stafford hopes that this new information will add some additional data on COVID-19. Because the technology is so new, officials do not foresee this information influencing any decision making at this time.

Biobot is a global leader in wastewater epidemiology. The company has been integral in the detection of many deadly viruses and bacteria and has helped communities track and proactively tackle public health crises such as the opioid crisis.

Most importantly, this technology provides insight into the health of communities without collecting any personal identifiable information and without direct interaction with the increasingly strained healthcare system. Learn more about the program at https://www.biobot.io/covid19/.

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