Erie County and the University at Buffalo have been working on a new way to track COVID-19: Testing wastewater that comes in through the sewage system.
Humans can shed the virus through their stool, and it often appears days earlier than someone becomes symptomatic.
By testing samples of the wastewater at treatment facilities across the county, they're able to zero-in on areas where there might be more cases of the virus.
They can then use that data to help focus their efforts on traditional COVID-19 testing, education and vaccinations in that particular area where there's more virus in the wastewater.
They've been collecting samples since September twice a week at eight different locations.
Since they started, the trends in virus hotspots have mirrored the trends they see in the greater community through regular testing. In some places, they've detected zero COVID-19 recently as infection rates continue to drop.
The information is now available to the public on the county's website through a dashboard that shows different sewersheds, and how often COVID-19 is found in those areas.
In the future, county health leaders hope this could also help them track other diseases that spread in the community.