Breakthrough in efforts by ASU researchers to track COVID-19 through wastewater

It's a huge breakthrough in the way coronavirus is tracked, as the City of Tempe now has data showing how prevalent the coronavirus is there, all detected by wastewater samples.

On April  28, FOX 10 reported on how researchers at Arizona State University are tracking the coronavirus through wastewater.

"Whether you like it or not, the information we need is in the sewer, and the sewer doesn’t lie," said Rolf Halden, an ASU professor with the Biodesign Institute. "What we have in mind is to have a proactive system, where we see an increase in viruses and can react before people that are asymptomatic present at the health care facilities."

Researches say there has been a major decrease in cases, and now, the virus can not be detected anymore.

"Now, as we exit the lockdown, we are seeing the signal has declined below the detection limit of 5,000 copies per liter sewage," said Halden.

"The trend here illustrating the trend is going down, so all the pain we endured was not in vain, according to counts of coronavirus in the sewer," said Halden.

This is the world's first data set for this kind of testing, according to researchers at the ASU Biodesign Institute, and it was all made possible by testing wastewater samples in the city's sewage.

"The virus shows up in the sewage earlier than people present at the healthcare facilities. We might buy ourselves a week of time of seeing a signal increase. It is all speculation but the data is encouraging," said Halden.

Researches tested samples all over Tempe, totaling about 185,000 people. The results, measuring back to early April, show the signals of coronavirus was high in the city, but then dramatically decreased during social distancing and the state's stay-at-home order.

Researchers at ASU say they are in the early stages of studying the results, and add that they are working on translating the data to the number of people infected.

"Right now, it is like the Richter Scale," said Halden. "You don't know where the levels are, if it is a two or 10, and we have to see where that is."

They are still working to determine exactly what this means, and they will be testing samples in New York and New Jersey, which will give them a better basis for these numbers.

They will be posting all of the results on the City of Tempe's website, so anyone can access it and stay up to date.

LIVE: Interactive Coronavirus case data and map


FOX 10 is working to keep you up to date with local and national developments on COVID-19. Every weekday on FOX News Now, our live coverage begins at 7 a.m. MST reporting the latest news, prevention tips and treatment information.

You can watch live in your FOX 10 News app or on the FOX 10 Facebook page.

Get the latest coronavirus news by downloading the FOX 10 News App. Our promise is that our alerts are there to inform you - not scare you.

You can also get the latest coronavirus news from around the country at

COVID-19 symptoms

Symptoms for coronavirus COVID-19 include fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. These, of course, are similar to the common cold and flu. 

Expect a common cold to start out with a sore or scratchy throat, cough, runny and/or stuffy nose. Flu symptoms are more intense and usually come on suddenly, and can include a high fever. 

Symptoms of COVID-19 may appear more slowly. They usually include fever, a dry cough and noticeable shortness of breath, according to the World Health Organization. A minority of cases develop pneumonia, and the disease is especially worrisome for the elderly and those with other medical problems such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes or heart conditions.

RELATED: Is it the flu, a cold or COVID-19? Different viruses present similar symptoms

Right now there's one big difference between flu and coronavirus: A vaccine exists to help prevent the flu and it's not too late to get it. It won't protect you from catching the coronavirus, but may put you in a better position to fight it.

To protect yourself, wash your hands well and often, keep them away from your face, and avoid crowds and standing close to people.

And if you do find yourself showing any of these flu or coronavirus symptoms - don't go straight to your doctor's office. That just risks making more people sick, officials urge. Call ahead, and ask if you need to be seen and where.

In order to protect yourself from a possible infection, the CDC recommends: 

Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.

Stay home when you are sick.

Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.

Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.

Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.

Additional resources

Coronavirus (COVID-19) - How it spreads, symptoms, prevention, treatment, FAQ (In Spanish/En Español)

Arizona COVID-19 Response - Public resources, FAQ, webinars (In Spanish/En Español)

Related Stories

Coronavirus: What to do if you’re told to self-quarantine

Does wearing a face mask protect you from coronavirus and other infectious diseases?

Social distancing: What to do and what not to do to slow the spread of COVID-19