The University of Idaho is continuing wastewater testing to detect potential COVID-19 hot spots within the on-campus community. One week into the spring semester, there are no areas of immediate concern, UI spokeswoman Jodi Walker said.

University scientists also test samples collected at Moscow’s Water Reclamation and Reuse Facility, and Tyler Palmer, deputy city supervisor of public works and services, said the facility remains “fairly low” in virus concentrations.

Walker said wastewater at residence halls and Greek houses are tested regularly and will continue to be tested throughout the semester. If tests indicate a high viral load in a certain area of campus, which happened in the fall semester, students and employees in that area will be asked to be tested for COVID-19.

Thibault Stalder, from the UI Department of Biological Sciences, said in September that wastewater testing has advantages over clinical-based swab testing.

“Clinical-based testing fails to detect early warning of an outbreak because when the virus is detected in a community, it’s already been spread through the community — it will be difficult to contain the outbreak,” Stalder said. “Wastewater-based testing can detect the virus in the population before clinical-based testing, providing a good estimate of the prevalence in the population.”

The ability to predict an outbreak allows people in areas which pose a high risk of infection to take precautions and get tested early on.

A graph outlining virus concentrations, confirmed COVID-19 cases in Latah County and a seven-day moving average of confirmed cases indicated a spike in virus concentrations about 10 days ago at the city’s Water Reclamation and Reuse Facility, and the seven-day moving average is trending sharply downward to about 10 cases per day in the county. The virus concentration spike was still nowhere near the high concentrations measured in October and November.

“Right now, we’re trending back down both in our caseload and we remain fairly low in our virus concentrations, so it’s in a good direction,” Palmer said.

Palmer said Water Reclamation and Reuse Facility operators collect the samples Tuesdays and Thursdays and the university provides results of the samples on Fridays.

“It’s been a really good partnership with the university,” Palmer said.

A wastewater epidemiology company called Biobot Analytics tested for the presence of COVID-19 in Moscow’s wastewater from May to July before the UI started testing the city’s samples.

From the collected samples in Moscow, Biobot estimated in July there were 1,800 cases of COVID-19 in the community. At the time, there were 46 confirmed and six probable cases in Latah County, according to Public Health-Idaho North Central District.

Palmer said the university does not make those approximations because of the ample guesswork involved in the figures. Palmer said officials are more interested in the COVID-19 concentrations in the wastewater instead.

COVID-19 data update

In Whitman County, 15 new cases of COVID-19 were reported Wednesday, pushing its total to 3,051.

New cases include two people younger than 19 years, three women and four men between the ages of 20 and 39, three men between 40 and 59, two men between 60 and 79 and one woman over 80.

According to a press release from Whitman County Public Health, 79 people in the county have been hospitalized because of the virus and 35 people have died from it.

WCPH announced this week the region has entered phase 1B of Washington’s vaccination schedule. Phase 1B will aim to inoculate people 65 years of age and older and high-risk critical workers who are 50 years old or older.

Washingtonians who are uncertain when they will be eligible to receive a vaccination are encouraged to visit FindYourPhaseWA.org for more information.

Public Health -- Idaho North Central District recorded 39 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, which brings the total in its five-county region to 8,000.

Latah County’s share of new cases was 19, pushing its in-county total to 2,386.

New cases in the county include one person younger than 18, four men and four women between the ages of 18 and 29, one man and three women in their 30s, two men and one woman in their 40s, two women in their 70s and one woman over the age of 80.

According to the health district’s website, 2,080 people have recovered and six people have died from the disease since the pandemic began.

Garrett Cabeza can be reached at (208) 883-4631, or by email to gcabeza@dnews.com. Scott Jackson contributed to this report. He can be reached at (208) 883-4636, or by email to sjackson@dnews.com.

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