Rutland releases novel coronavirus wastewater testing results

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RUTLAND — About a month ago Rutland City announced it would participate in a nation-wide study of novel coronavirus – also known as SARS-CoV-2 – infection rates using wastewater testing.

The study is being conducted by an MIT-spinoff firm named Biobot that has developed technology to identify virus fragments in wastewater samples.

From the number of fragments found, Biobot can estimate the number of infected individuals in the community’s overall population.

Samples from April 14th, 21st, 28th, and May 5th have been tested and in all cases the results indicated the SARS-CoV-2 virus was “not detected” in Rutland’s wastewater.

This does not mean the virus is not present in Rutland, but rather that the number of virus fragments were too few for the technology to detect.

Biobot’s technology requires the presence of at least 5,000 virus RNA fragments in a liter of wastewater before they can affirm it is present.

This translates to a minimum of about 5 percent of the population, or, for Rutland, about 850 people with active infections.

“This is very good news for Rutland,” said Mayor David Allaire. “And it confirms what we have learned from individual testing and hospitalizations. But we need to remember that the virus is definitely here and as many as 1 in 20 people could have it and still see the same results.”

Biobot’s study has grown in recent weeks to cover about 10 percent of the US population.
Biobot said that about one-third of the tests from the 400 municipal wastewater treatment plants in the study indicate “not-detected”.

Mayor Allaire indicated that the testing would continue.

“One of the benefits of this testing is to give a community a head’s up if infection rates start to increase. As Vermont and Rutland start to reopen our economies these results can tell us whether we can do so without risking a resurgence of infections.”