Scanning the Sewers

Bloomberg Businessweek|June 08, 2020

Scanning the Sewers
Startup Biobot Analytics is testing swaths of Americans’ waste on behalf of local governments
Nick Leiber

The Delaware county of New Castle is home to about 560,000 people, more than half the state’s population, and like most American communities during the federal government’s bungling of its initial pandemic response, it struggled with conflicting information and severe limitations on Covid-19 testing. Given the mess, County Executive Matt Meyer says, he was ready to consider any option that could provide better intel. So in April, New Castle began to gauge coronavirus infections using a data point collected from an unusual source: poop.

The county has been participating in a pro bono program run by Biobot Analytics, a startup in Cambridge, Mass., that analyzes the virus’s concentration in sewage to estimate the number of people infected in a given area. The Biobot founders say that by gauging where infections are rising or falling over time, Meyer and other officials can make better decisions about public health. That could mean relaxing social distancing restrictions when conditions improve or preparing local hospitals for a surge of patients when coronavirus-in sewage levels spike. “My job right now,” Meyer says, “is to get us out of this however we can.”

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June 08, 2020