Tempe continues to test wastewater for COVID-19

The City of Tempe has been a leader in testing wastewater for COVID.

The program began during the opioid epidemic, and today, the city is still learning a lot because of what the samples show.

An uptick in COVID is happening across the country, and at the community level, the City of Tempe is seeing it.

"For wastewater, that means it’s getting a little bit stronger, as far as the presence of COVID in our community," said Wydale Holmes, Director of the Strategic Management and Innovation Office for Tempe. "We do have a few areas that are higher than others, but we really look at that as a way to say ‘we need to do more education about general prevention.’"

Holmes said in the last three weeks, wastewater collected near the Arizona State University campus, and also in Downtown, has shown higher levels of COVID. However, the information is not meant to scare.

"We cover all 40-plus square miles, but we’ve created smaller footprints so that we can do more targeted outreach and customize education and prevention programs, as well as prepare our first responders based on what the data is telling us," Holmes said.

The program to test wastewater with the ASU Biodesign Institute began in 2017 because of the opioid epidemic. When the pandemic hit, the transition to track COVID made sense.

"Wastewater surveillance and the study of wastewater and its analysis is really an emerging field," Holmes said.

Later this month, influenza and RSV will also be tracked.

"I do consider ourselves a leader, but not because we want to be first," Holmes said.  "Even though sometimes it’s hard to be first. We want to be a leader because it’s going to help people and that’s really aligned with Tempe’s values."

Tempe Wastewater Biointel Program