May 10, 2020 3:00 AM

KDHE: Wastewater could hold clues to fighting COVID-19

Posted May 10, 2020 3:00 AM
Waste water treatment plant -photo courtesy Johnson County
Waste water treatment plant -photo courtesy Johnson County

TOPEKA –The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) is working  with the University of Kansas School of Engineering (KU) to determine if genetic remnants of COVID-19 can be detected in wastewater. 

According to the KDHE, the concept originally tested in Massachusetts and the Netherlands, and now throughout the United States, is that people infected with the virus shed it through their urine and feces.

The genetic material can be extracted from wastewater and matched against genetic markers keyed to COVID-19. The virus itself does not survive in wastewater, and therefore wastewater is not a significant means of disease transmission. 

Detecting the genetic material in wastewater is indicative of COVID-19 being present and may give local health officials knowledge of how widespread it is in their community, allowing them to take proactive measures to mitigate its spread. While drinking water is not part of this ongoing study, it’s important to note disinfection by all Kansas public water suppliers inactivates the virus and drinking water remains safe for consumption.

The Kansas project is still in its preliminary stages. KU collected samples from 12 wastewater plants in Kansas in late April. Some indication of the genetic material was found in the wastewater in 10 of those plants. Results are too variable and uncertain to make actual estimates of the extent of infection in those communities. The results were communicated to officials in cities that participated in the study.

“The initial results do show genetic indications from COVID-19 in wastewater; however, at best, we are at the presence/absence stage of evaluation process,” Tom Stiles, KDHE’s Bureau of Water director, said. “There is much more we need to refine in the methodology to assure quality control and that will start with further testing of samples. We don’t know how quantitative this approach can be, but we are hoping it gives us a means to corroborate our COVID testing of individuals, particularly in counties where positive cases have been low. Additionally, we may employ it as early warning surveillance should the virus come back in the fall or winter to give us a chance to get ahead of it.” 

Samples were taken from a large city and a small town, each in five northeast Kansas counties with multiple wastewater facilities and sampled in Lawrence and Topeka. KDHE and KU are still evaluating the results and formulating plans for next steps in using the detection techniques.

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May 10, 2020 3:00 AM
Top 2020 Kan. contenders getting out-of-state donations
Barbara Bollier, a former Republican, is running for the U.S. Senate as a Democrat. Credit Jim McLean

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Kansas’ top two contenders in the Senate election and competitive congressional races will be getting majority of their money from out-of-state donors, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Democrat Barbara Bollier and Republican Kris Kobach have received roughly two-thirds of their individual contributions from non-Kansan donors. The amount excludes donations from political action committees.

Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids and Republican Rep. Steve Watkins have also received donations from out of state. Both are top targets for the opposing party in 2020.

Kansas Republican chairman Mike Kukelman says he’s concerned that so much money is flowing into the state.

Bollier, a state senator from Johnson County, raised $1.58 million or 63.5% from donors who live outside Kansas.

Kris Kobach

Kobach, the former Kansas secretary of state, has received less overall out-of-state cash, but it accounts for an even greater percentage of his fundraising with $292,521 or 69.2% of his individual contributions.

“Conservatives nationally are supporting me because they want to help Kansans put someone with a proven conservative record in the Senate,” Kobach said in a statement.

Davids raised $1.14 million or 63.7 % from out of state. Her top metros include Kansas City, New York and Washington.

Watkins, the freshman Republican from Topeka, received $359,568 or 69.2 % from out of state.

Republicans have attacked Bollier and Davids for their out-of-state fundraising, but they’ve largely ignored Kobach and Watkins’ similar reliance on outside largesse.