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Belgrade will soon begin testing its wastewater for the virus that causes COVID-19, an expansion of efforts at Montana State University and the Gallatin City-County Health Department.

Starting in November, samples will be collected and analyzed weekly to monitor the presence of the virus in the city. The results will be published on the health department website.

“It’s not in the wastewater unless it’s in the community,” said Heather Walk, who runs Bozeman-based Archer Biologicals, which will be analyzing the Belgrade samples. “Researchers have predicted outbreaks with wastewater and it’s an anonymous, non-invasive way to get results quickly.”

Archer Biologicals will also soon begin processing the weekly samples, which are now collected in Big Sky, West Yellowstone and Three Forks and processed at MSU.

MSU can no longer work on the wastewater samples because it is now processing 1,200 to 1,500 COVID-19 tests daily for the state Department of Public Health and Human Services.

“This will be a seamless transition, and I think, a perfect fit for a small business,” said Walk, who has been involved with the wastewater work at MSU.

Walk received a $25,000 grant from Montana’s business innovation grant program, which was set up with federal coronavirus relief money to help businesses adapt and respond to COVID-19, to purchase equipment needed for processing the wastewater samples.

Blake Wiedenheft, MSU associate professor in the department of microbiology and immunology, has been and will continue to collect and analyze samples from the Bozeman wastewater treatment plant.

In recent weeks, the virus that causes COVID-19 has consistently been detected in Bozeman, Big Sky, Three Forks and West Yellowstone. This finding aligns with what the health department is seeing — residents from all across the county testing positive for COVID-19.

Gallatin County and the Big Sky Relief Fund have been paying for the wastewater work, but the state is reimbursing them using federal relief money, said health department accountant Keith Wilson.

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Perrin Stein can be reached at pstein@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2648.