Testing wastewater for coronavirus: ASU researchers notice spike following end to lockdown

"What has happened since, I think that the news is not good."

For Arizona State University professor Rolf Halden, the date is alarming.

He and his team at the ASU Biodesign Institute have spent the past two months analyzing sewage samples in Tempe, looking for traces of coronavirus.

During Governor Doug Ducey's statewide lockdown, Halden says levels remained normal, but in the days and weeks that followed, Halden noticed a disturbing trend.

"We've seen the emergence of COVID in wastewater in levels above the detection limit, rising from less than 5,000 virus copies to over 50,000 to 100,000 -- sometimes, even a million copies per liter of wastewater," he said.

And Halden believes it's tied directly into the lifting of the lockdown.

"On one hand we, know that the lockdown worked," he said. "The lockdown was very painful, and what we see know is that we are not good at controlling the spread of the virus."

Professor Halden believes we need to find the right balance between measuring population health and measuring the health of individuals on a much smaller scale, and that includes more contact tracing.

"Our data suggests the infection rate or the number of individuals excreting the virus has certainly increased and is still increasing right now in our community, and I hope we are working together in the future jointly to limit the spread of the virus so that we can all return to our normal lives," he said.

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.

MAP: Worldwide interactive Coronavirus case data

MAP: Arizona Coronavirus cases by zip code

FULL COVERAGE: fox10phoenix.com/coronavirus

CDC: How coronavirus spreads, symptoms, prevention, treatment, FAQ

Arizona COVID-19 resources, FAQ: azdhs.gov/coronavirus

On CoronavirusNOW.com, you'll find extensive coverage about COVID-19, including breaking news from around the country, exclusive interviews with health officials, and informative content from a variety of public health resources.


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.