Foothills wastewater testing reveals rise in COVID-19 instances

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News 11’s Adonis Albright speaks with the people behind the wastewater testing project to learn more

YUMA, Ariz. (KYMA, KECY) – Yuma County has issued a warning about a rise in COVID-19 cases in the Del Oro area of the Foothills.

Officials were able to alert the community after conducting wastewater testing. The county said, although levels of infections are on the rise across all three testing locations, the Del Oro area (shown in red below) has risen “above usual levels.”

Courtesy: Yuma County

The University of Arizona Wastewater Testing Project pilot program has been ongoing for at least a year, and is all thanks to a partnership between the Yuma County Public Health Services District, the University of Arizona, and the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS).

“[The] Wastewater surveillance system is kind of like an early detection system, and the value in that it actually provides up to maybe two weeks window to indicate an increase in the prevalence of COVID-19 in the wastewater. So what that does is it gives an early indication of the rate of infection even in people who are not symptomatic,” said Diana Gomez, the director of the Yuma County Public Health Services District.

Samples are typically collected across Yuma County twice per week. Gomez said this is the first time that information collected from samples gathered from a community have been released to the public. The University of Arizona has been working together with the county to expand the project.

“If any other municipalities… or tribal groups, or you know the marine bases would like to join in, we would absolutely bring them in. Right now, we’re focusing on the 5 municipalities… We already had discussions with the school boards to start doing testing at the schools”, said Brandon Schmitz, a researcher at the University of Arizona.

Schmitz said the metrics used to gauge if the number of COVID-19 infections is high is based on three levels: one means there is no cause for concern, while level two means there is a noticeable increase in coronavirus cases. At level three, an outbreak has already occurred and not much can be to done to prevent it. So, this method has been key in stopping potential outbreaks before they even happen.

The county also hopes this method will continue to be key in detecting outbreaks in the community early, and often.

“It’s just another tool for people to use when they’re making decisions about their health”, said Gomez.

Yuma County is also reminding Foothills residents that there is free COVID-19 testing at the St. John Neumann Roman Catholic Church, located at 11545 E 40th Street, from 8:00am to 4:00pm, Monday through Saturday.

For more information on testing locations and resources, click here.

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