Agencies monitoring Hawaii wastewater for COVID-19

HONOLULU — Federal authorities have begun monitoring Hawaii wastewater for COVID-19, while the state expects its own monitoring program to be fully operational this summer, officials said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been testing in the islands as part of its National Wastewater Surveillance System, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.

The agency posts wastewater data on its COVID Data Tracker website, denoted by dots on a U.S. map. Data from Hawaii hasn’t been included yet due to “a technical glitch being resolved with how the points are displayed on the map,” said CDC spokesperson Nick Spinelli.

The agency said it would also display data from the Hawaii Department of Health once the state is able to submit its own figures.

More than 30 states have been funded to participate in the CDC program, but some are still getting their collection efforts up and running.

Several issues delayed Hawaii’s early plans to set up its own statewide monitoring program.

The state faced a six-month wait for shipment of sample-collection machines, which were back-ordered due to high demand.

Federal funds paid for the the monitoring equipment at a cost of about $100,000. The equipment is now in place, as are protocols.

It also took months to approve a new staff position for a wastewater microbiologist, said Edward Desmond, the administrator of the Department of Health’s State Laboratories Division.

The CDC says many people infected with COVID-19 shed viral ribonucleic acid or RNA in their feces even if they are asymptomatic. This means wastewater provides a collective snapshot of what’s going on in a community, regardless of whether people have developed symptoms or been tested.

A rise in coronavirus levels in wastewater offers about a week’s advance notice of where case counts are headed, according to Natalie Exum, assistant scientist of environmental health and engineering at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore.


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