MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WBOY) — On Tuesday Senator Joe Manchin announced a $930k grant to fund a mobile wastewater testing lab at West Virginia University that will be used to test for evidence of infectious diseases in local communities.

Dr. Gordon Smith, a WVU professor involved in the project, says wastewater testing for COVID-19 has already been going on for the last two years.

When people are infected with a virus, in this case, COVID-19, the inactive viral material can be detected in the wastewater of communities where the virus is starting to spread. This practice is becoming more and more important for early outbreak detection, as the city of New York found out on Friday.

“Essentially with COVID, the studies have shown that you can get an early warning of about 2-3 days, well before an outbreak is starting to occur. And even in a matter of a week or so you can predict when you’re going to get a big heavy load in the hospital,” Smith said.

Smith said the advantage of testing for disease through wastewater is that you only need one sample for the whole community to test for the emergence of disease in that area, instead of the traditional method of doing individual testing, which is comparatively much more expensive.

Smith also wanted to note that this method of testing is not invasive and does not identify individuals, it just gives a measure of the whole community

The lab will also have the ability to sequence the genetics of the virus to detect variants of the virus. Smith expects this program will be a great opportunity for graduate student researchers to get valuable field experience.