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Not a Crapload of Data... But Some

Preliminary findings from Bend's sewer samples show varying levels of SARS-CoV-2


In May, the City of Bend announced its utilities department had been participating in a study with Biobot Analytics, focused on monitoring wastewater to give a bigger picture about the spread of COVID-19 in the community. This type of study could also be used for other purposes in the future, as a way to catch early signs of a potential outbreak, or even to test the level of usage of certain type of drug, health officials said.

At the Bend City Council meeting on June 3, Utilities Department Program Manager Jeff Buystedt shared some of the results. Tests ran on days spread from April 7 to May 18, with wastewater samples were taken from six of the same neighborhoods as the OSU Tracers program—which tested community members for COVID-19 in 30 Bend neighborhoods the last weekend of May.

Numbers from both programs will give health officials a better picture of how COVID-19 operates and the spread it can have—or already has had—in the community. According to a study published in Science Daily, COVID-19 was found to be present in stool for weeks after the patient tested negative in swab tests.

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Here is a look at the results reported at Bend's City Council meeting this week:

April 7
Deschutes County reported 4 new cases and 44 cumulative cases.
The Biobot study revealed tat 19,498 copies of SARS-CoV-2 were detected and estimated 580 cases in the community.

April 14
Deschutes County reported one new case and 55 cumulative cases.
Biobot study revealed zero traces of the virus.

April 21
Deschutes County reported zero new cases and 64 cumulative cases.
Biobot found 38,413 traces of the virus and estimated 1,200 cases total.

April 28
Deschutes County reported zero new cases and 75 cumulative cases.
Biobot found zero traces of the virus.

May 5
Deschutes County reported three new cases and 89 cumulative cases.
Biobot found zero traces of the virus.

May 12
Deschutes County reported one new case and 80 cumulative cases.
Biobot found zero traces of the virus.

May 18
Deschutes County reported five new cases and 101 cumulative cases.
Biobot found zero traces of the virus.

The numbers don't exactly paint a clear picture. Buystedt says that the City is trying to move the sampling into a smaller area of the county to improve on the numbers. Even the Clean Water Services in Portland has seen similar results.

"I think we need to get a lot more sampling in to better understand what the numbers mean and how they co-relate," said Buystedt. "I don't think it's uncommon [to see numbers like this]."

The positive of the test is that it does show they can detect the 
SARS-CoV-2 virus and that it can be traced this way. The zeros seen are also because there's a certain threshold number that needs to be met for it to show more results, Buystedt said—so it doesn't necessarily mean there weren't any traces in the samples. Narrowing down the threshold number is also something the department will be working on, as mentioned.

This type of testing and technology  is something that will likely become more popular with health agencies in the country. Dr. George Conway,  Health Services Director for Deschutes County also mentioned in the meeting how testing wastewater can be used to trace opioid use among other things in communities.

"This really is a great partnership between the City of Bend and the county health department," said Buystedt.

The Source reached out to Bend's utilities department for further comment, and will update this story as more information becomes available. As for the results of the OSU TRACES study, OSU-Cascades Vice President Becky Johnson said the results of that study should be out soon. 

About The Author

Isaac Biehl

Isaac is living proof that "Iowa Nice" is actually a thing. A journalism graduate from Iowa State University, he regularly writes about music, the outdoors and the arts/culture scene. Isaac loves the Trail Blazers, backpacking and a good IPA. He plans to one day win Survivor. Your move, Jeff Probst...

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