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'Numbers are starting to come down' | Wastewater continues to help track COVID-19 spread in Houston

Treatment plants throughout the city are testing for COVID-19 every hour. Health officials say the numbers are declining, but they're coming down from a high level.

HOUSTON — What you’re flushing down your toilet is helping the Houston Health Department track the spread of COVID-19. Doctors say that at least 40% of people who have the virus have no symptoms but they can find the virus in human waste.

RELATED: Early warning system: How Houston is using wastewater to identify COVID-19 hot spots

"In fact, the virus is secreted in your feces and in your urine. We can test the wastewater to see if it's there," Dr. David Persse said.

That is why every hour for 24 hours they collect samples from 38 wastewater treatment plants throughout the city. Once a week those samples are sent to labs at Baylor College of Medicine and Rice University. Each sample is tested six times and doctors said the process helps spot a COVID-19 resurgence early.

"It is a very early indicator of what is about to happen with positivity and hospitalization. It’s not exact but very very helpful," Persse said.

Lately, the samples collected at the wastewater plants are starting to move in a much-needed direction.

"The numbers are starting to come down. But I want to remind folks they are coming down from a very high level. Higher than what we had in July," Persse said.

Doctors say we are not out of the woods yet. And people still need to follow COVID-19 protocols. Houston Health Department officials say as they get more equipment, they will target testing in specific areas and even buildings.

So far, they’re also tracking the wastewater coming out of jails, homeless shelters and schools.

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