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Testing Wastewater for Coronavirus. OH Really?


With coronavirus cases increasing in Ohio, we’re answering your questions on everything from types of testing, to a possible link in cases to Election Day. Every Monday, we’re reaching out to the experts to get the answers with "OH Really?"

We begin this week with something everyone has done, and will continue to do, during this pandemic -- shopping. Debbie Gibbons from Cleveland Heights asks, “How dangerous is it to go grocery shopping if everyone is masked and the checkout lines are socially distant?”

We asked Summit County Public Health, and they said getting groceries is relatively safe if the store is observing the six-foot social distance in the checkout lines and everyone is masked.

They advise people to be cautious and don’t touch your face or eyes unless you wash your hands first.

We also received a follow up question from Bambi Vargo. She wants to know who is supposed to enforce the wearing of masks by employees and customers.

Gov. Mike DeWine mentioned this during his briefing last Wednesday night. It’s the store’s responsibility to enforce the mask order.

Coronavirus and voting

Debra Light asked us if there’s a relationship between the huge increase in cases and voting earlier this month? She wonders if maybe all those people in line to vote were not taking proper precautions.

The health department says they haven’t seen an outbreak associated with voting, which by the way lasted from October 6 through Election Day November 3.

In Cuyahoga and Portage Counties, from what we observed, people were masked up and distancing pretty well. In Summit County, there were additional poll workers stationed at each voting location to help reinforce social distancing measures.

In Coventry, the manager Cindy Murdock said at first she didn’t know what she was going to do with all the additional workers, but once they got started she appreciated having the extra hands to sanitize voting booths after each voter.

At North High School in Akron, a voter asked for curbside service for someone who had tested positive for COVID-19.

“This is the first time we’re servicing a curbside voter," said manager Josh Schaffer. "I’ve been working polls for 15 years now and never had this experience.”

It was a bit of challenge, but they got it done.

Testing wastewater

Bev Keeler from Cleveland wants to know, “if we can detect coronavirus from stool in wastewater, how come we can't develop an at-home test using a stool sample?”

We asked Summit County Public Health Commissioner Donna Skoda about this. She says stay tuned.

" They just started the wastewater testing project and it's appearing to pan out," Skoda said. "They're being able to look at individual outfalls of water and determine if there was a rise in the disease at that time. Now I'm saying that past tense because right now, it's still getting set up. The labs are coming to capacity, but eventually I do believe there may well be a test you can do at home."

"Do you feel that this at-home test -- five or 10 years from now -- might be something that we all just have at home, like a pregnancy test or a thermometer?" Kabir Bhatia asked.

"It could well be because you know, COVID-19 right now -- the way it's behaving as an atypical coronavirus -- we don't know; it could be here five years, and so it may well be that we'll have a test around."

Air filtering

We received a question from an anonymous listener, who wants to know if government buildings are adding more ventilation “with top grade/space station air filters?”

Health Commissioner Skoda says government buildings and others have looked at their systems. "I know the county buildings have been checked. The EPA issued some guidance about buildings that had been [closed] up and -- if you're going to reopen those buildings -- about water lines and Legionella and the air flow and the air quality."

You can submit your question below for OH Really?, WKSU’s podcast which makes you part of the reporting process.

Copyright 2021 WKSU. To see more, visit WKSU.

Kabir Bhatia joined WKSU as a Reporter/Producer and weekend host in 2010. A graduate of Hudson High School, he received his Bachelor's from Kent State University. While a Kent student, Bhatia served as a WKSU student assistant, working in the newsroom and for production.
A Northeast Ohio native, Sarah Taylor graduated from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio where she worked at her first NPR station, WMUB. She began her professional career at WCKY-AM in Cincinnati and spent two decades in television news, the bulk of them at WKBN in Youngstown (as Sarah Eisler). For the past three years, Sarah has taught a variety of courses in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Kent State, where she is also pursuing a Master’s degree. Sarah and her husband Scott, have two children. They live in Tallmadge.