MIT spinoff’s analysis of poopy water estimates that 15,000 in New Castle County have coronavirus


New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer announced that the Public Works Department and a Massachusetts Institute of Technology startup Biobot Analytics conducted a preliminary analysis of bacteria in county and city of Wilmington sewage system.

The company estimates 15,200 cases of COVID-19 as of April 15, 2020.

The partnership, initiated through New Castle County Public Works Stormwater and Environmental Program Manager, Mike Harris, launched a study of wastewater for traces of COVID-19 bacteria. This partnership comes at no cost to the county, with the exception of the cost of shipping samples to Biobot Analytics’ Massachusetts laboratory.

“We must do whatever we can to keep communities safe, and we must do it today,” County Executive Matt Meyer said. “This is a data point that may help better understand the prevalence of COVID-19 in our community. Anything that helps make this invisible enemy a little more visible is welcome. As we monitor readings in future weeks, we hope to gain insight that will help us flatten the curve, save lives, and begin preparations to safely return to work. We thank Biobot for this innovative partnership.”

According to the results of the first sample, approximately 3 percent of the county’s population north of the C&D Canal had the Sars-CoV-2 virus on April 15 approximately 15 times the published rate of confirmed, positive tests in the county on that date. This result is slightly less than the approximately four percent of the population exposed to the virus in similar studies in Los Angeles County, California.

Biobot’s COVID-19 case estimates may exceed the confirmed case numbers in the county for a variety of reasons. Clinical testing is limited and may not represent the entire infected population. In addition, some individuals who have COVID-19 exposure are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms and do not seek out testing.

County engineers collected samples from Wilmington’s wastewater treatment plant during the week of April 13. The test began last week and will continue for an additional three weeks, with the goal of connecting trends or locating hotspots in relation to COVID-19 pandemic and providing data for decision-makers regarding the continued prevalence of the deadly virus in our communities.

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