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Somerville Wastewater Testing To Act As Coronavirus 'Smoke Alarm'

SOMERVILLE (CBS) -- Somerville will soon be looking to its sewage for warning signs of a potential coronavirus surge in the community. The city announced Thursday it is partnering with Northeastern University and sewer engineering firm Stantec for a wastewater testing program.

Somerville believes it's the first municipality in Massachusetts to look for coronavirus in the sewers. It's a tactic that has been tried elsewhere in the country, including universities and a water district in Maine. The city says it could help reveal "COVID-19 hotspots" up to two weeks before standard testing.

"Adding wastewater testing to our COVID-19 interventions is like adding a smoke alarm to your house. It provides a warning before the problem gets out of control," said Mayor Joe Curtatone in a statement. "This new tool will greatly enhance our ability to detect and contain COVID-19 clusters in Somerville as they emerge.

Health and Human Services Director Doug Kress said wastewater testing can be used to target vulnerable locations like senior living facilities and college campuses.

"People infected with the coronavirus, including those who don't have symptoms, can shed the virus in their urine and feces well before many know to go for testing or get their results back. Asymptomatic persons may never get tested," Kress said. "To aid in early detection, experts including the CDC have called for wastewater testing as an early warning system."

Somerville also announced it is moving forward with Phase 3, beginning Tuesday after multiple delays. Gyms, yoga studios, dance facilities and arts classes will all be allowed to operate under the new guidelines.


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