GVSU expands COVID-19 wastewater testing to catch outbreaks early


ALLENDALE, Mich. (WOOD) — Testing for COVID-19 through wastewater is being considered a success at Grand Valley State University.

The program started in November and now is expanding. New concerns about the delta variant and big summer gatherings are making this project even more valuable.

Perhaps the best part, according to researchers, is that the state can keep an eye on the virus without spreading resources thin, saving time and money.

“It’s actually a huge win in a lot of public health ways because it allows us to do noninvasive surveillance of the population, which allows us to be more effective in the way we do public health interventions,” project research assistant Alexis Porter said.

A new set of wastewater samples came in for testing Monday morning. Water was collected from Grand Haven and Spring Lake in Ottawa County along with locations in Kent and Muskegon counties.

“We are looking at a baseline, so if the delta variant takes off, we should be able to see it in the water,” Rick Rediske, a professor of water resources at GVSU, said.

Coronavirus shows up in waste about a week before symptoms. The latest results show COVID-19 cases are down from November and December. Now, researchers are looking at events that could serve as super spreaders like the Coast Guard Festival and trips to Michigan’s Adventure.

“It kind of helps us be able to make those decisions from our policy holders — Is it safe to open? Should we go into closing ideas? It just kind of helps us get a better understanding,” Porter said.

The data is being collected across the state, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle.

“I think the biggest part of this is that everybody has the ability to make informed decisions based off of the information that we can provide with them. So, if they feel like this is something where they feel like they were present and want a COVID test. Or they can be empowered with the information that this might be another exposure,” Porter said.

This process will be continuing for the next two years. If you would like a look at the data, it will be shared online.

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