City no longer participating in sewage testing

May rejoin program next year

Posted 10/19/21

The City of Powell stopped participating in a statewide effort to test sewage for COVID-19 mid-summer, but depending on how the pandemic unfolds, it may rejoin the program in 2022.

From last fall …

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City no longer participating in sewage testing

May rejoin program next year

Posted

The City of Powell stopped participating in a statewide effort to test sewage for COVID-19 mid-summer, but depending on how the pandemic unfolds, it may rejoin the program in 2022.

From last fall through June, the city collected samples of its wastewater on a regular basis and sent them to be tested for the presence of the novel coronavirus. Because people infected with the virus can shed it in their urine and stool, the test results are being used by public health officials as an early indicator of whether COVID-19 infections are rising or falling.

However, when the city’s sample collection agreement with the Wyoming Department of Health came to an end in June, it opted not to continue with the program; Park County Health Officer Dr. Aaron Billin called the change “disappointing” in a late July Facebook comment.

City Administrator Zack Thorington recently explained that, “at the time of June, we were down [in the number of COVID-19 cases] and it was looking like … why continue?”

Thorington noted that collecting the samples and packaging them up takes time away from other tasks in the city’s water department.

“We’ve got four people in that department, that’s all we have, [and] we’ve got a lot of things to do,” he said.

Thorington said the testing program was actually a bit of a moneymaker, as the Department of Health not only provides the materials but pays cities and towns to collect the data. Last fall, the Department of Health offered the City of Powell $300 per sewage sample, plus a one-time $10,000 payment if the city submitted at least one sample every week. However, “if you’re in it for the money, I feel you’re in it for the wrong reasons,” Thorington said.

While local COVID-19 levels were low in the early part of the summer, cases and hospitalizations have since spiked, returning to the higher levels seen last fall — and Thorington said the city may participate in the sewage testing again.

“We’d look at it again if there’s a new agreement that comes up at the beginning of the year, now that things have changed,” he said.

In the meantime, within the northern Big Horn Basin, the City of Cody and the towns of Deaver and Cowley are continuing to collect samples from their raw sewage. To view the data, visit https://covidwastewatermonitor.wyo.gov/.

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