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Rock County wastewater monitoring signals COVID-19 cases are higher than reported

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Rapid At-Home Testing

Wastewater Monitoring Shows Cases Are Higher than Reported

JANESVILLE (WKOW) -- Wastewater data collected by the City of Janesville suggests there are more people currently infected with COVID-19 than the number of positive test results being reported.

Janesville's Coronavirus wastewater monitoring program collects wastewater twice a week and sends it to the Wisconsin State Lab of Hygiene. The State then tests these samples to determine the amount of COVID-19 present in the community. 

Tracking the number of people with COVID-19 often relies on the conventional testing of individuals who are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or have had close contact with an individual who has tested positive. Some people may not get tested due to mild or no symptoms, and not all at-home test results are reported. The use of wastewater monitoring helps gather a more comprehensive understanding of the spread of COVID-19.

“The wastewater testing can give us an idea of the trends that are occurring beyond what is reported to the health department in PCR testing,” said Nick Zupan, Rock County Public Health Department’s epidemiologist. “Although it’s difficult to estimate how many more people have COVID-19 based on the wastewater data, we are seeing much higher levels now than any other time in the pandemic.”

Trends in wastewater findings can also inform or signal potential changes in the number of people who test positive for COVID-19. "It's a way for us to see what is happening in the community," said City Wastewater Superintendent Joe Zakovec. "We can look into the future and see the spread of COVID-19."

The City's Wastewater Treatment Plant is one of 49 facilities across the state currently providing samples. The City receives funding for this testing through the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. Data is reported here.