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Stool tool: Why Dallas is now testing poop to monitor COVID trends

Houston is on year No. 2 of using the system, which has provided early warning signs of surges, other cities across the country are joining as well.

DALLAS — The newest Dallas County COVID testing site doesn’t require anyone to stand in line. Instead, you just have to sit down.

The city’s wastewater treatment plant off Interstate 45 is testing some of thousands of samples that pass through it.

Dallas County Health Director Dr. Phil Huang said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has asked areas across the country to start sampling wastewater to track the spread of the virus.

“I think they’ve got good systems for that so it’s pretty accurate,” he said. “You’re not identifying that in individual people, but it does show if it’s present in a big group of people.”

It’s been going on for a couple weeks in the Dallas area and involves people taking samples on Mondays and Wednesdays. It’s found about a 35% decrease compared to 15 days ago, according to the CDC site.

“At this point it’s still very early,” Huang said. “It’s a little hard to interpret at this point.”

COVID hospitalizations in North Texas have dropped 83% from the late January peak, and testing is a fraction of what it was during the surge. Health officials believe the new system provides a way to get to the bottom of what’s happening in the whole area.

“[It’s] a leading indicator in terms of variants, and then maybe a trend indicator if things are going up, things are going down,” Huang said.

Houston is on year No. 2 of using the system. Wastewater was ahead of testing in predicting the winter surge after noticing an increase in omicron cases, but while Houston is sampling dozens of plants, Dallas is just looking at one and can’t point to exactly what areas cases are coming from.

“It’s another tool to try to get more information about what’s going on in our community,” Huang said.

It won’t replace other measurements, like cases and positivity rates, but it could help the county get ready quicker if another surge arrives.

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