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Homer sewage foreshadowed explosion of COVID-19 cases


The City of Homer has started receiving reports back from the COVID-19 study it is participating in, trying to gauge the incidence of the disease in the population by sampling the city’s sewer.
    City spokesperson Jenny Carroll explained on Thursday’s COVID Brief.
     “It is a study, just trying to figure out how to see it in the wastewater and then extrapolate that to our population numbers,” Carroll said. “So it is a study, it's a rough estimate of the number of people in the community, but it is confirming the presence of COVID-19 in our community.”
    Results from samples taken May 26 show up to 40 cases of COVID-19 in the city among those connected to the city’s wastewater system, at that time.
    “That reading that we got on May 26, they estimated there could be 40 infected individual carriers of COVID-19 that have used the wastewater system. As you know, today's numbers we're about at that level in the area, but not specifically in the city of Homer,” she said. “But what it does show is it reflects pretty much the uptick of positive cases that we're seeing reported in our area.”
    Homer and the Southern Kenai Peninsula has become Alaska’s hotspot for COVID-19 infections since travel and business mandates were relaxed before Memorial Day, with 42 of the Kenai Peninsula’s 63 active cases, according to State of Alaska figures on Monday.
     “We  volunteered to be part of a study by a group called BioBot Analytics in Massachusetts, they're working through MIT to do a study of looking at the COVID-19 genetic material that shows up in wastewater before it's treated as a way of measuring COVID-19 in a community,” Carroll said. “So we're one of about 160 public works departments in the United States who's participating in the study. This is a measure that has been developed earlier to detect certain things in populations from a public health perspective.”
    Homer is the only city in Alaska to participate in this study.

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