Justice, at last

Carol Moehrle

Moscow’s wastewater may be bearing witness to a larger number of COVID-19 infections in the community, according to an ongoing study by Biobot Analytics Inc., a Boston-based research company.

The city of Moscow has sent samples of its wastewater in May and July to the company that is conducting a nationwide testing program to monitor the presence of COVID-19 in wastewater.

Samples from the first three weeks in May resulted in no detectable cases of the coronavirus. A sample from May 27 showed an estimated 190 cases. A sample from July 1 resulted in an estimated 1,400 cases, and a sample from July 13 resulted in an estimated 1,800 cases.

Confirmed and probable cases in Latah County at the times those samples were taken were five on May 27, 35 on July 1 and 45 on July 13, according to Public Health – Idaho North Central District Director Carol Moehrle, who was answering a question Wednesday afternoon about the Moscow results during a Lewiston City Council work session.

“We are trying to figure out the science that’s been used by Biobot in order to determine the numbers that they’re showing,” Moehrle said. “Their number curve does correlate with the increase in true positives that we have ... (but) 35 versus 1,400 is a huge difference.

“What it does tell us is that people are shedding the virus in their stool,” Moehrle said. “That’s good science to know because that means we need everyone to be washing their hands a whole lot better than we maybe thought to begin with when we thought it was just respiratory spread and contracted in the air. If they’re finding that in a sample at all in stool, it shows that it’s probably spread that way as well.”

Moehrle said the district has not seen Biobot’s science to know how to validate the correlation between Biobot’s high numbers and the district’s confirmed and probable cases.

The estimated caseloads still need refining, Moscow Public Works and Services Deputy City Supervisor Tyler Palmer said. The city is not shying away from the science, but expects it to be refined in the future. The city is sharing the data with public health officials.

“What we’re really working toward is a better understanding of what the test results mean,” Palmer said. “The city wanted to have the best information and the most comprehensive information we could have.”

The city plans to use the data to help inform decisions. By participating in the study over the summer months, they have a baseline of data that can be compared to new samples taken when students return to the campus at the University of Idaho so the city can monitor change, Palmer said.

Biobot is analyzing wastewater samples from about 400 cities across the country. The company says its method to detect SARS-CoV-2 in sewage was adapted from CDC protocols and relies on identifying the virus’s genetic fragments excreted in the stool.

Estimation of COVID-19 cases from wastewater analysis is an emerging science and there are several variables that could impact the accuracy of the results, especially in a smaller system such as Moscow’s, Palmer said.

Rain events, daily flow variations and the cleaning of sewer lines could all affect the accuracy of the results. Old, leaky, clay pipes in Moscow allow rainwater into the system and that could flush more virus into the wastewater treatment plant on a day when a sample is taken, which could affect results, Palmer said.

“The more data points we get, the better, because it helps us get a better understanding,” Palmer said. “The interesting thing that we found as we plotted our confirmed cases in the county is the trend line actually correlates between them. That’s not to say that we believe the 1,800 cases is spot on and we’re sure we have that many in the community, but the trend line is matching up, so in that regard it is a helpful piece of data to have.”

The Moscow Water Reclamation and Reuse Facility serves the the area within the city limits of Moscow and the Southeast Moscow Sewer District located outside of city limits to the east of town.

Moscow will participate with the University of Idaho Biological Sciences and Civil and Environmental Engineering departments in a partnership with the Institute for Modeling Collaboration and Interaction, to coordinate a regional wastewater testing program. The results of that testing program are expected in a few weeks.

Details of Biobot’s methodology are available at www.biobot.io/covid19.

There were 16 new cases of COVID-19 reported by local health officials in north central Idaho and southeast Washington on Wednesday. The state of Washington also reported an additional case for Asotin County on Wednesday, but it was a case the county had been counting for weeks.

Public Health – Idaho North Central District reported 13 new COVID-19 cases. Six of the cases are in Latah County, five in Idaho County and two in Nez Perce County.

There have been 207 cases of COVID-19 reported in four of the five counties in north central Idaho. Lewis County still hasn’t reported any cases. Wednesday’s cases included one boy under the age of 10, four men in their 20s, two women in their 20s, one man in his 30s, one women in her 30s, one man in his 40s, two men in their 60s and one woman in her 60s.

Latah County’s six cases brings its total to 58, of which 52 are confirmed and six are probable. No one has died of the disease in Latah County. Seven people have recovered from COVID-19 in Latah County, while the remaining 51 cases are considered active.

Idaho County’s five cases brings its total to 23. Three people have recovered from the diseases; the other 20 are considered active. No one has died from COVID-19 in Idaho County.

Nez Perce’s two cases brings its total to 118. There have been 19 deaths related to COVID-19 in Nez Perce County. There have been 63 people who have recovered from the disease and the remaining 36 cases are considered active.

Nimiipuu Health reported no new cases Wednesday.

Whitman County reported three new COVID-19 cases and the state of Washington reported an additional case in Asotin County, bringing Asotin County’s total to 22 on the state’s website.

Asotin County had been counting the case for a few weeks, but there were issues with the test results being released that caused the delay in the state updating its data, Asotin County public health official Brady Woodbury said. Two people in Asotin County have died from COVID-19.

Whitman County has had 73 cases of COVID-19. Wednesday’s three cases were all male, with one being between the ages of 60-79 and two being between 40-59. Two of the men are stable and self-isolating, but one man is hospitalized, Whitman County Director of Emergency Management said.

Garfield County did not have any new cases to report Wednesday.

WinCo Foods will require all members of the public to wear masks when visiting its stores beginning Friday, the company announced on its website.

WinCo employees have been required to wear face masks since July 1. The company asked that those with “a valid medical exemption” for not wearing a mask are asked to inform an employee.

A city of Moscow Engineering Division employee stationed at the city’s Mann Building has tested positive for COVID-19, which prompted the building to be closed Wednesday afternoon.

The building, located at 221 E. Second St., was closed “in an abundance of caution” so that the building can be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected and is safe to be occupied. The building houses the city’s Engineering, Planning and Building Safety Divisions.

It is anticipated that the building will be reopened for employees and the public by Friday. During the closure, private and public construction inspection services will continue to be provided by city staffers working remotely. Construction permits and other services can be accessed on the city’s website at permits.ci.moscow.id.us/citizen or by phone at (208) 883-7022.

The City of Moscow is seeking public input on the use of the downtown rights of way that allows business owners to apply for expanded use of those areas to facilitate more outdoor commerce use and improved social distancing.

Many of Moscow’s downtown businesses participated in the program and the city continues to receive applications from businesses.

The Moscow City Council will consider the policy at its meeting Monday. Residents are asked to contact the city by email at communityevents@ci.moscow.id.us or by calling Moscow City Clerk Laurie Hopkins at (208) 883-7015 to provide input.

The Neill Public Library will reduce its curbside service starting Monday from five to three days a week.

Library patrons may pick up library items on Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays from 1-6 p.m.

The Great Moscow Food Drive will be held Aug. 1 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the southeast corner of East City Park instead of its normal location at the Moscow Farmers Market.

The food drive, which began in 2000, is sponsored by the Latah County Human Rights Task Force with assistance from the City of Moscow Human Rights Commission. Moving the drive was necessary because of safety protocols required by the pandemic.

The food drive benefits the Moscow Food Bank and the Weekend Food for Kids. The need for help this summer is greater than ever, a news release said. The kids project need has increased from 100 to 200 requests for food boxes each weekend, the release said.

The location was chosen to allow people to drive by and drop off their contributions of canned goods, fresh produce, household items, checks or cash. People can also send a check to Latah County Human Rights Task Force at P.O. Box 8613, Moscow, ID 83843 or online donations are accepted at www.humanrightslatah.org.

The American Red Cross of Greater Idaho has launched a Virtual Family Assistance Center to support families struggling with loss and grief because of the pandemic.

People can visit redcross.org/get-help to access a support hub with virtual programs, information, referrals and services to support families in need. Those without internet access can call (833) 492-0094 for help.

The virtual support is provided confidentially and free.

Wells may be contacted at mwells@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2275.

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