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Testing the Crap Out of Bend

How big is Bend's COVID outbreak? Researchers test the sewer system to find out

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For the past five weeks, Bend's Utility Department has been handing in a sample of untreated sewage to Biobot Analytics, a new startup created in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University and Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital—all in the name of finding out just how widespread the COVID-19 outbreak is in the city. 

Biobot's mission is to "analyze viruses, bacteria, and chemical metabolites that are excreted in urine and stool and collected in sewers."

Bend isn't alone in this pro-bono study; 329 other cities around the U.S. are also turning to the startup to get a bigger picture. According to Biobot, studies show that SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) can be found in the stool of infected patients. The study aims to help get a bigger picture on the scope of the outbreak and to be able to anticipate emerging outbreaks in the future.

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"As an innovative city, we are excited to be part of this research," City Manager Eric King said in a press release.

According to Jeff Buystedt, the Utility Department Program Manager of Environmental Compliance, the department has only gotten results back for three of the four samples taken.

"It's a little early to draw any conclusions with the limited data set we have thus far. Our and Biobot's goal is to get more data," said Buystedt. "We are helping provide research and data that can help the entire world in the future. Methods will continue to improve and get more accurate as we have more cumulative data. It's still early in this effort, and we're all learning together."

Results from the study will also help inform the public how effective  our practices have been in preventing the spread of COVID-19. 

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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