Syracuse, N.Y. – Onondaga County will begin testing wastewater at nursing homes and assisted living facilities next week to protect their vulnerable residents from coronavirus outbreaks.
Coronavirus can be shed in the feces of people who are both symptomatic and asymptomatic. The system already is being used to test wastewater in dormitories at Syracuse University and many SUNY campuses.
“It’s an early indicator to tell us if there is a problem,” McMahon said. “This gives us the ability to find out where the virus is hiding in these buildings.”
The county plans to test wastewater at every senior living facility in the county.
If the virus is detected in a facilty’s wastewater, all residents will be tested. The state already requires employees of these facilities to be tested once a week.
Nursing homes and other senior facilities were hit hard by the pandemic during the spring and summer. State data shows 77 nursing home residents have died in Onondaga County. But the toll is higher than that because the state only reports deaths of nursing home and assisted living residents that occur in those facilities, not in hospitals.
McMahon said there have been few positive cases lately in senior facilities. But he said the number of cases could increase this fall as more people stay indoors.
“This will be an effective tool to get out in front of this,” he said. “We do this to preserve life. These are our most vulnerable residents.”
Wastewater surveillance has been around since the 1990s and has been used to detect other diseases such as polio.
Syracuse University, the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry and Upstate Medical University developed a wastewater surveillance system to help prevent and contain coronavirus outbreaks on college campuses statewide.
James T. Mulder covers health and higher education. Have a news tip? Contact him at (315) 470-2245 or [email protected]