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OU researchers partner with Oklahoma City to test city wastewater for potential COVID-19 evidence

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OU researchers (from left to right) Katrin Kuhn, Jason Vogel, Bradley Stevenson and Halley Reeves have helped monitor wastewater on campus for traces of COVID-19 to gauge the presences of the virus.

OU researchers are partnering with Oklahoma City to test for evidence of COVID-19 in city wastewater, giving researchers the ability to indicate where potential COVID-19 outbreaks will occur.  

According to an OU Health press release, many people infected with COVID-19 shed the virus in their waste before showing symptoms. To find evidence of the virus, researchers collect wastewater samples from OKC’s four wastewater treatment plants and 15 residential manhole sites for evidence of COVID-19 twice a week. 

“Wastewater sampling affords valuable lead time that can be used to stem further transmission of COVID-19,” said OU associate professor of microbiology and leader of the OU research team Bradley Stevenson in the release. “At OU, our wastewater research is being used to complement other surveillance measures the university has in place. Our research team looks forward to extending this important initiative to the City of Oklahoma City.”

Funding for the project comes from the OKC allocation of federal money under the CARES Act, according to the release. The sampling initiative at OU was launched with funding from the Office of the Vice President for Research and Partnerships on the OU Norman campus. 

According to the release, the OU COVID-19 sewage surveillance team is composed of Stevenson; Jason Vogel, professor in the OU School of Civil Engineering and Environmental Science; Katrin Kuhn, associate professor in OU Hudson College of Public Health; and Halley Reeves, vice president of the Community Health Impact at OU.  

The release states researchers hope over time the wastewater sampling will inform them of public health, measure how the virus is changing and overall help the effectiveness of health guidance and direction of resources.  

“This project will catapult Oklahoma City into a top tier of Smart Cities, and we’re confident this data will help guide public health measures in directly targeting testing, vaccine and other interventions toward the citizens who are most impacted by the virus at any given time period,” said Phil Maytubby, chief operating officer of the Oklahoma City-County Health Department. 

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