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Fighting COVID in Yuma County with sewage testing

FOX 9's Adam Klepp got an exclusive look at the lab detecting where COVID could spike next

YUMA, Ariz. (KECY, KYMA) - The Yuma Center of Excellence for Desert Agriculture has been testing for traces of covid in local sewage water for over a year.

According to Stephanie Slinski, Associate Director of Research and Development, while cases are trending down, we’re not quite back to normal yet.

“We’re seeing less of the Coronavirus but were’s still seeing the Coronavirus, but we’d like to see is samples with no detection,” Slinski said.

Slinski says the advantage of sewage testing is it detects a COVID surge before hospitalizations rise.

“It’s about 4-7 days before there’s a spike and we see that in our testing,” Slinski said.

Executive Director Paul Brierley says this allows public health authorities to reposition resources to specific parts of Yuma County proactively.

"Maybe they bring more testing or more vaccines to that area of the county because they know it’s spiking,” Brierley said.

While sewage water testing has been instrumental in the fight against COVID, there are other applications for this testing in public health, as well as the agriculture industry.

Brad Schmitz helps analyze the data coming out of this lab and he says it could be used to battle the opioid epidemic.

"As we consume them, we are also excreting them," Schmitz said. "So we can get an idea of how dependent some of these communities are on these drugs.”

Brierley said the lab can improve food safety and test plants for harmful diseases.

“Monitoring workers for something that could transfer to the food and be a problem,” Brierley said.

Schmitz says the sewage testing program has been a major success thanks to the cooperation between cities and towns throughout Yuma County.

Others are now copying their model.

"Yuma county should feel very honored and proud of the success they’ve been able to make together because it is making a massive global impact," Schmitz said.

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Adam Klepp

Adam Klepp is excited to start his first job in the broadcast news industry as the FOX9 at 9 anchor and as a reporter at 5 and 6 on News 11.

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