A study of sewage wastewater shows that more than 15,000 New Castle County residents may have been infected with the coronavirus as of more than a week ago.
The findings were released today by New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer, who said the county public works department and a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)-backed company studied wastewater for traces of COVID-19 virus. The analysis of county and city of Wilmington sewage led researches to an estimate of 15,200 cases of COVID-19 as of April 15, 2020.
If accurate, the wastewater study points to a more than ten-fold increase in the incidence of the virus in New Castle County, as the official tally currently sits at 1389. More than 3300 cases have been confirmed statewide.
Meyer said the study underlined the likelihood that many more people have contracted the virus than those who have been tested and diagnosed. He said that clinical testing is limited and some individuals who exposed to COVID-19 are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms and do not seek out testing.
“This is a data point that may help better understand the prevalence of COVID-19 in our community,” said Meyer. 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.”
According to the results of the first sample, approximately three 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 population exposed to the virus in similar studies in Los Angeles County, California.
County engineers collected samples from Wilmington’s wastewater treatment plant during the week of April 13. Testing 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.
The county said the testing came at no cost to taxpayers, with the exception of the cost of shipping samples to Biobot Analytics’ Massachusetts laboratory.