By Katy Savage
A test on Rutland City’s sewer system has detected no cases of Covid-19 in the community.
The test results, delivered last week by Biobot, a start-up company in Massachusetts, showed the number of Covid-19 cases in Rutland were too low for the technology to detect.
The results didn’t surprise Jeff Wennberg, the commissioner of the Department of Public Works in Rutland.
“We have very low confirmed infections and hospitalizations, so it makes sense that the total number of folks with Covid-19—including the asymptomatic—would be less than 5% of the
population,” he said.
The Vermont Department of Health tally shows that there are 967 confirmed cases statewide as of Tuesday, May 26, while there were 15 confirmed cases in Rutland city between March 5 and May 21.
Rutland city started collecting and submitting sewer samples to Biobot last month as part of the company’s experimental research. Rutland is one of 350 communities in 40 states participating in the study. It cost about $1,080 for the City to participate.
There are about 20,000 people on the wastewater system in Rutland. Biobot uses technology that traces individual RNA fragments to test infection in the entire community. The technology requires at least 5% of the population to be infected before fragments can be detected.
“This is very good news for Rutland and it confirmed what we have learned from individual testing and hospitalizations,” Mayor David Allaire said in a statement. “But we need to remember that the virus is definitely here and as many as one in 20 people could have it and still see the same results.”
Despite the low number of infections, Wennberg and Allaire said sewer testing would continue as Gov. Phil Scott started easing restrictions on some businesses as part of a phased plan to reopen the economy. Retail businesses opened May 18 while restaurants opened for outdoor seating on May 22. Salons and barber shops can reopen May 29.
Scott called Vermont the “envy of the nation” at a recent press conference due to the low growth rate of Covid-19 cases, which is the lowest in the nation.
“As Vermont and Rutland start to reopen our economics these results can tell us where we can do so without rising a resurgence in infections,” Allaire said.