TC To Receive $2 Million To Monitor Wastewater For COVID-19 Through 2023

The city of Traverse City is expected to receive $ 2 million in funding from the state of Michigan to monitor local sanitation for COVID-19 through 2023, with city commissioners voting tonight (Monday) to accept the grant. As disease incidence in the region declines sharply, the surveillance is designed to identify new vaccine-resistant variants and serve as an early warning system for potential outbreaks.

Traverse City was part of an initial nationwide pilot program worth $ 10 million in 2020 to test wastewater in communities across Michigan. Nine-week testing of Traverse City’s wastewater at eight different locations last fall found that nearly three-quarters of the samples contained traces of the coronavirus. Environmental health director Dan Thorell of the Grand Traverse County Health Department told The Ticker that “(tests) would be really useful in situations where you could study wastewater on a much smaller scale, such as when you are in a sewer. B. from nursing homes, prisons or colleges ”. Dorms to see if SARS-CoV2 is present to prevent a major outbreak.

This is the intended approach with the expansion of the test program until 2023 using the laboratory equipment that Traverse City and other project participants already received during the pilot project. Cities, tribal communities, universities, utilities, and laboratories across Michigan will collect wastewater samples, analyze them for the presence of SARS-CoV2, and report the data to the state. The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) will “provide scientific expertise and data management capabilities to the network,” while Michigan State University will act as the “lead laboratory, standardizing laboratory tests and providing technical support,” on project documents. Test data are intended to quantify “the disease burden in our community or at individual meeting places” such as schools, prisons and long-term care facilities and reduce the demand for tests at these locations.

The locations that Traverse City samples from may vary over the year due to seasonal population shifts, with the Grand Traverse County’s Department of Health supporting selected locations as a key partner in the project. Planned sample locations include local high schools, Northwestern Michigan College, Cherry Capital Airport, Grand Traverse County Civic Center, Grand Traverse County Jail, the city’s east and west sewers, and Munson Medical Center and Pavilions. In the summer, when the school population declines, the tests could be shifted to “busy public access points such as restaurants and trips to the community”, according to project documents. “The sample results are used to determine whether an outbreak is imminent in any of these facilities or institutions so that COVID security measures for the students, residents, patients or inmates can be implemented in a timely manner.”

Even as COVID-19 cases decline, officials pointed to the need to take a comprehensive approach to monitoring potential outbreaks for the foreseeable future, measuring the effectiveness of local vaccinations, and looking for the early emergence of vaccine-resistant variants. “Testing for COVID-19, as the health department is currently doing with nasal swabs, is an effective approach to reducing exposure … but does not currently provide a mechanism to examine a larger sample of the population and disease prevalence and movement,” Staff wrote in Traverse City’s grant application to the state. “The public health department needs to be … properly equipped with the ability to screen COVID-19 in the community more than what is currently seen in symptomatic testing of individuals.”

Also at today’s commission meeting …
> City commissioners will vote on a final water infrastructure improvement plan, which will be submitted to EGLE this summer, to examine up to $ 14.75 million in low-interest loan financing for repairs to the city’s water treatment and distribution system. The city is applying for 20 year funding at 2 percent interest with an estimated monthly residential cost of $ 5.58 ($ 1.13 first year). The city is separately applying for over $ 27 million in loan funding for sewage repair projects. Both loan plans list all of the potential projects the city could tackle; however, the city is not required to address all of them exactly as described or in any particular order. The implementation depends on the amount of funding approved by the state and the future approval of individual project contracts by the Commission.

> Commissioners will consider giving the go-ahead to staff tonight to develop a policy allowing liquor to be served at special events at Hickory Hills Lodge. Beer and wine are already allowed for special events, but staff noted that spirits should also be allowed in order to compete with other venues and attract events like weddings and charitable fundraisers. With the support of the Commission, staff will consider options, including using a specific caterer as a liquor supplier for Hickory Hills or allowing nonprofits to obtain their own temporary licenses for events. Staff will come back to the Commission for adoption at a future meeting with a recommended policy.

> Commissioners will consider adopting a resolution supporting the Housing North’s Homes for Our Future campaign, which aims to mobilize solutions to the region’s housing crisis, including training advocates for housing programs, providing free educational events and the Training local communities to better welcome affordable housing developments. Traverse City Mayor Jim Carruthers will also read a proclamation in town on June 19th declaring June 10th as an official public holiday. The proclamation that the “City of Traverse City respects the heritage of all residents and participates in the triumphs, culture and achievements of African Americans locally and in the United States and around the world,” follows actions by Congress and around the world President Joe Biden last week to establish Juneteenth as a federal holiday.

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