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Some Missouri sewer districts are opting out of COVID-19 testing as state enters ‘endemic’ phase


Sewer districts across Missouri are opting out of the state's Sewershed Surveillance COVID-19 tracking program.

Ashland's wastewater treatment plant and Centralia's plant opted out of the COVID-19 testing program, and they are not alone. Macon, Marceline and St. Roberts have all opted out. Jefferson City and Fulton did not report results during the last surveillance period, either.

Program data is updated online weekly, and a lot of cities that have not officially opted out of testing are showing results unavailable on the map for the week of March 21 -- the most recent results available.

The Sewershed Surveillance Program started as a way for Missouri to test for trends in COVID-19 through the sewer systems. The genetic material of COVID-19 can be found in human waste, even if people are not experiencing symptoms. The facilities testing can't pinpoint infected individuals but can track trends and the spread of the virus. The system has been effective at spotting those trends before cases start showing up through testing.

The project is a joint venture between the Missouri Department of Health and Services, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and the University of Missouri.

State leaders said Wednesday that Missouri is moving to an endemic phase of the coronavirus pandemic, meaning it will pull back some monitoring and reporting resources. For example, daily reports of coronavirus statistics will be reduced in frequency.

Gov. Mike Parson said Thursday that the "crisis is over" and said that Missouri is entering the endemic recovery phase of COVID-19 starting on Friday. Free at-home testing is set to end on Thursday. The sewershed project is still reporting its results, and the treatment plants that are still testing are showing decreasing cases or no change in most of the facilities.

Wastewater treatment plants that have choose to opt out of the Sewershed Surveillance Program include

  • Ashland
  • Blue Springs
  • Centralia
  • Charleston
  • Macon
  • Marceline
  • Oak Grove
  • St. Robert
  • Walnut Ridge

Marc Johnson a professor at the Missouri School of Medicine said that as we enter the endemic, the sewershed testing will likely play a bigger roll in COVID-19 tracking. "I think that's absolutely true, that once the expensive patient testing goes away, we don't have that many read outs. Because you know every time you have the sniffles anymore you know it could be COVID, but you don't really know. It would be nice to know sort of on a city level if you have an outbreak or not." 

Article Topic Follows: Coronavirus
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Marina Diaz

Marina is a Multimedia Journalist for ABC 17 News, she is originally from Denver, Colorado. She went to Missouri Valley College where she played lacrosse and basketball, and anchored her school’s newscast.


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