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State looks to wastewater to help predict coronavirus future

Coronavirus in Kansas

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNW) – A second wave of the coronavirus is expected to hit Kansas in the coming months. KDHE Secretary Dr. Lee Norman said they are still looking at projections to determine when that second wave may occur, but he says the colder weather could have an impact.

“We believe the cold weather will make it because people will congregate inside and that’s how pandemics work.”

But the state is also looking outside of tracking case numbers to predict the next wave of the virus. Since April, KDHE has been testing the state’s wastewater for remnants of the coronavirus. This testing helps show where the virus is commonly found and how it spreads across the state.

According to the Kansas Bureau of Water, testing wastewater can show the extent of infection in a community even before the reported positive cases in that same community.

“This is just one more bit of information to say, ‘you may have low counts there, does the wastewater tend to corroborate that,'” explained Tom Stiles, Director of the Bureau of Water, KDHE.

KDHE is partnering with the Patterson Family Foundation to expand testing in the state. Wastewater testing will now be completed in 95 of Kansas’ rural counties as well as conducting weekly testing in Johnson and Wyandotte counties. The goal is to predict the next spike in coronavirus cases before they happen.

“Think of it as an early warning sign and gives us roughly a seven-day headstart,” said Dr. Norman. “We think it can be an important adjunct for the early recognition of outbreaks. Subsequent testing will allow us to know when and where we need to mobilize our resources.”

The testing of the 95 rural counties will be completed by Thanksgiving, according to KDHE. The Johnson and Wyandotte testing will continue through December.

Stiles reminds Kansans that coronavirus remnants in water is not contagious. You cannot contract the virus by coming in contact with any of the state’s water.

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