HOUSTON — The Houston Health Department has been testing the city’s wastewater for COVID-19 since 2020. It tells them what parts of the city have higher levels of the virus.
Now, you can see the levels in your own neighborhood with the city's new wastewater dashboard.
The city tests all 39 wastewater treatment facilities for COVID-19, and they’ve been tracking the trends.
Constantly turning inside any wastewater treatment plant is all the water from your bathtub, washing machine, dishwasher -- and even your toilet.
“When people have the virus, they actually shed the virus when they go to the restroom," Houston Health Department Chief Environmental Science Officer Dr. Loren Hopkins said.
The city takes samples from all over Houston, including manholes outside certain Houston schools. Below is the interactive map. You can see it in a separate window here.
"So we can take a sample and that represents the wastewater from the bathrooms in a school," Hopkins said.
Hopkins said the numbers tell them the virus load inside that school.
Parents can now look up schools to see what the data is showing.
“If the reading comes back that there is a high load of virus at that school, that puts them on higher alert," Hopkins said.
What if a school’s wastewater indicates a high presence of the virus, but the cases reported don’t reflect that?
Not everyone who is infected will show symptoms and get tested, but they will all go to the bathroom.
Hopkins said that what’s interesting about wastewater is that it can forecast what’s to come. People can start shedding the virus before they even have symptoms.
Wastewater can also pick up traces of the virus lingering from past infections.
“Either way, if you have a high load of virus in your wastewater, it does indicate a need to investigate further," Hopkins said.
The city will also start testing for the flu within the next month or so. Those numbers will also be posted on the dashboard.
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