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Wastewater COVID-19 testing to continue in North Dakota, but not without opposition

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Travis Carufel, wastewater treatment plant superintendent for the city of Bismarck, checks the instrument used to remove samples from the sewage at one of the facility's lift stations, to test for coronavirus, in October 2020.

The Legislature's Budget Section has approved of continuing state-administered testing of cities' wastewater for the coronavirus, using $1.2 million of federal money leftover from the state Health Department.

Wednesday's vote was 28-10. The money will take the state Department of Environmental Quality's testing of 19 cities' wastewater through December 2022. The testing includes monitoring for coronavirus variants.

North Dakota State University conducts the testing, which can indicate epidemiological trends earlier than clinical testing of people.

The wastewater testing hasn't been popular among some lawmakers. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jeff Delzer, R-Underwood, said, "I can't support it because I personally do not believe in it."

Rep. Jeff Delzer, R-Underwood, opposes funding COVID-19 wastewater testing.

Rep. Jon Nelson, R-Rugby, said the wastewater testing "is a more efficient way of testing an area to see if there is an outbreak," especially with the new omicron variant circulating in the U.S.

"It would seem to me like it would make good sense to have a system where a community could be warned about an outbreak and take those precautions on a level of intelligence and data rather than innuendo," Nelson said.

The 2021 Legislature left the testing's future in doubt by not approving any money for it despite multiple requests by Environmental Quality, and ultimately giving intent that the agency find federal funds.

Reach Jack Dura at 701-250-8225 or


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