Government Tracking Your Health Through the Sewer


If nothing else, our COVID-19 ordeal is bringing out government actions that we really should consider at a basic philosophical level relative to our rights and philosophy.  (Of course, the question of whether many people will do so appears to have a negative answer.)

Just so, we get WJAR’s Katie Davis casually reporting that large parts of Connecticut are testing sewage as an early screen for a coronavirus outbreak:

Keeping kids safe as they head back to school during the pandemic means keeping a close eye on COVID-19 numbers in local communities. Some communities are using an early warning sign that might surprise you: sewage testing.

“It’s both fascinating and disgusting at the same time. We reveal a lot about ourselves in sewage,” said professor Jordan Peccia, who heads a team at Yale University that’s analyzing wastewater from Connecticut sewer systems.

Peccia’s team is now able to test sewage from about 1 million people across Connecticut, including large cities like Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven. He said cost to test a community of 400,000 people via wastewater samples is less than the cost to test just eight people using individual nasal swabs, making it extremely cost effective.

Testing your waste is usually something we leave to our doctors, as private medical information.  Shouldn’t we pause for a moment and ask whether it’s an activity government ought to be involved in?

Sure, testing a pool of a million people at some centralized hub isn’t much of a threat, but if there is no push-back on that, then we’ll surely find the tests moving upstream.  What happens when the government finds a positive test at some branch serving a small neighborhood?  On the strength of that information, does a governor get to lock that neighborhood down using the police?  Or maybe mandatory tests for everybody who lives there?

Why stop with sewage?  If the government collects your garbage, its agents could sift through it or use technology to test for various substances.  And why stop with COVID-19?  It would certainly help the War on Drugs to focus if neighborhood sewage were tested for traces of narcotics.

Yes, some of these possibilities seem far off, but the thing with encroachments on our liberty is that they always seem far off… until they’re at your door.

  • Rhett Hardwick

    It seems to me that during the Cold War, it was common to tap into the toilets of visiting Soviet dignitaries to determine their health.

  • bagida’wewinini

    This cost effective way to gather information on this virus would help those who work in the areas of public health to gauge the spread of the virus. This would be valuable as it could determine what strategies could be deployed. As schools reopen with the hope that in person classes will resume , this type of information could serve as a guide so that some districts could fully open

    • Justin Katz

      Fine, but where are the protections? Unless people raise concerns there will be none.

      • bagida’wewinini

        I agree with you and your concerns. How is this different from the concerns of citizens protesting racial injustice? We can easily write off those we disagree with as mistaken and even paranoid but holding those in power to answer for their actions protects all of us ultimately. Ruth Bader Ginsburg fought for men who were discriminated against as a way to advance not just men’s rights but also women’s right. So keep challenging authority and also try to recognize that same impulse from your opposites