Testing for the Coronavirus in Sea Spray near the U.S.-Mexico Border

Is the new coronavirus blowing in the ocean breeze?

The National Science Foundation awarded a $198,943 grant to Kimberly Prather at the University of California, San Diego, to investigate the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in sea spray due to the aerosolization of sewage.

Here’s what that means.

People infected with SARS-CoV-2 shed the virus in their feces. Standard disinfection processes at wastewater treatment plants disarm the virus. But not all sewage is treated.

Prather’s project will look at what happens to raw sewage in the Tijuana River as the river enters the Pacific Ocean just north of the U.S.-Mexico border. Churned by the mixing waters, virus particles may become airborne.

Prather will test aerosol samples for SARS-CoV-2 and other viruses and bacteria to provide a map of the coastal airborne microbiome. Sampling will be done before and after the virus takes hold in Tijuana, the source of the untreated sewage.

The study will identify potential hot spots of airborne viruses and bacteria and the ocean conditions that produce them.

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