Seeking COVID solutions in Jackson

 

To the Editor:

Like government and business leaders across the country, I am continually looking for ways to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our county. So when I discovered new research that could detect traces of COVID in wastewater, I felt compelled to try and replicate it in Jackson County.

I serve on the Tuckaseigee Water and Sewer Authority Board and was familiar with wastewater surveillance for opioids. But the research by Mathematica that I read about was measuring the viral load of COVID in wastewater. Our Board agreed it was data we wanted as part of our county’s COVID response.

In looking for a funding partner, I was led to Dogwood Health Trust, and they quickly said they would fund a pilot study. With Dogwood’s grant, we tested the main Jackson County reservoir, and the data showed that spikes in community spread were preceded by elevated levels of the virus in the wastewater. In fact, the first sample collected showed a high viral load then about nine days later, the number of COVID cases in Jackson County spiked from eight to 21.

This science is new but since utilities are equipped for sampling, a single test can measure the exposure of thousands of people. It’s important for rural communities like ours to have the right partners to make projects like this possible. I encourage all rural counties to pursue innovative ideas, and more importantly, innovative partners who value the insight of local leaders.

Ron Mau, Cullowhee

Mau is a member of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners.