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Des Moines joins national study to track COVID activity, variants in wastewater

The Des Moines Metropolitan Wastewater Reclamation Authority will be participating in the national study for the next eight to nine weeks.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowa's largest metro is now participating in a national study to track the presence and concentration of COVID-19 and its variants by testing wastewater samples, according to the Des Moines Metropolitan Wastewater Reclamation Authority.

DMMWRA treats, cleans and returns wastewater to the Des Moines River from 17 Des Moines metro communities and over 500,000 residents.

The National Wastewater Surveillance System program will be ongoing for the next eight to nine weeks, according to DMMWRA. They will collect multiple samples each week and send them to a national lab at the cost of the program. 

This program is a partnership between the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health and Biobot Analytics

"A major part of our mission at the WRA is to protect public health,” DMMWRA Director Scott Hutchens said in a press release. “So any way that we can provide vital information to help fight COVID-19 is a step that we’re excited to take for our residents." 

RELATED: Iowa and other states scale back virus reporting just as cases surge

The NWSS program will cover more than 100 million people across the United States with "hundreds of wastewater treatment plants participating," according to DMMWRA. 

The goal of the program is to compile information that will help with a more effective response against the COVID-19 pandemic as testing numbers decrease. It will also help public health experts accurately track the virus as vaccinations continue and variants emerge. 

As of Monday, the state's COVID-19 dashboard says Polk County's 14-day positivity rate is at 4.9% and the 7-day rate is 4.6%. 

The state is no longer reporting COVID data continuously. As of July 7, Iowa's coronavirus data is only updated on Wednesdays. 

This all comes as the country experiences another surge, likely caused by the delta variant

Health officials advise everyone to keep practicing mitigation efforts, like frequent handwashing, wearing a mask if not vaccinated and staying home when sick. 

RELATED: How to find the latest COVID-19 testing, cases and death data in Iowa