Tempe expands sewer testing to include flu and RSV viruses

Tempe health officials test water from the sewers for a variety of things.
Published: Sep. 7, 2023 at 4:58 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - Tempe health officials test water from the sewers for different things. They started testing for opioids back in 2017. A few years later, in 2020, they started testing for COVID-19. City officials have created an online dashboard to publish the results to the public. Their latest results are from Aug. 21. The tests are broken down into nine different areas around the city. Area 6 is the one around Arizona State University. That shows four times more COVID than the next-highest area just west of campus.

“We knew we had to approach community health with a different lens,” Director of Strategic Management and Innovation Officer Wydale Holmes said. “It’s anonymous, and it doesn’t share personal information. It’s kind of like looking at air quality, so we’re looking at health quality across the community, and we’re able to look at different areas of Tempe.”

Holmes says testing wastewater can help show a more accurate representation of what’s happening in our community. This doesn’t depend on people who test at home to report the results.

“We know wastewater is one data set that can inform us about community and inform our community about what’s going in on the areas they live in. We look at this as another data item in our toolset to help inform us regarding our policies, practices, and strategies.”

Doctors have warned people about the threat of a “tripledemic” this fall if people test positive for COVID, influenza, and RSV at the same time. Holmes says they plan to start testing for the flu and RSV later this month. They’ll be able to track three of the most common viruses that spread around the country. “We try to reach people where they are and not necessarily expect to come to us for information, but we want to push this information and this data to them to make the best decisions for them and their friends and family.”

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