The Department of Health and Human Services is studying stool samples to trace virus spread and hot spots around the country.

It's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it: DC Water, the capital's water treatment agency, is participating in a COVID-19 study that's all about waste. No, not exorbitant spending—like actual human waste.

In a statement issued Tuesday, the utility company announced its plans to join research efforts led by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) into the country's wastewater plants and the virus' spread. The agency, which treats water in DC and parts of Virginia and Maryland, is among the various groups involved in the project.

Much about the Coronavirus has eluded medical professionals since the pandemic started in March, and officials hope the project will unlock some much-needed answers for maintaining public safety.

“COVID-19 is the health issue of our lifetime and I am proud that DC Water can participate in a study as critical as this one to learn more about this virus and find ways to prevent it from taking even more precious lives,” said David L. Gadis, CEO and General Manager of DC Water.

So how will the survey work? HHS will collect samples of wastewater directly from the water plants and tested for RNA (ribonucleic acid). The study's first phase will examine 10-percent of the nation's treatment plants, about 100 facilities, while the second phase will stretch to 42 states and a 30-percent population count. By obtaining a wide variety of samples, the department aims to explore how the infectious disease spreads throughout communities and the nation at large.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, SARS CoV-2, or the novel Coronavirus, can be identified in fecal matter. Stool samples are a useful method of tracing community spread, because, let's face it, human biology guarantees there will be no shortage of it. It is well-documented that asymptomatic spread has contributed to increasing infection rates, and many people with COVID-19 may not display outward symptoms. In that case, feces can offer insight into where and how the virus is sparking "hot spots" around the country.

Right now, the study is still in the early stages, and while officials will begin collecting samples as soon as possible, specifics regarding sample amounts or the length of the study have not been confirmed. For more information, you can check out the CDC's Frequently Asked Questions page.

What do you think of this study? Sound off in the comments!