(Missoula Current) Wastewater samples collected in areas of Missoula have detected a rising level of COVID-19 in the population, health officials said Wednesday.

According to Missoula Public Heath officials, sampling data found 1.5 million wastewater "effective concentration" copies from March to September. Effective concentration measures the amount of viral RNA produced by COVID.

Cindy Farr, director of health promotion at the health department, said the results point to a rapid increase in the number of copies found per liter over the last six months. In April of this year, the number of copies hovered at around 500,000 before decreasing to near zero in mid-July and skyrocketing to more than 1 million in August.

“As we’re seeing an increase in COVID in our wastewater surveillance and an increase in outbreaks, it’s important for people to be sure to take precautions. It is especially important to be a good neighbor and protect those most vulnerable to severe illness from COVID,” said Cindy Farr, director of Health Promotion at Missoula Public Health.

Farr said respiratory illnesses typically increase in the fall. Health officials are asking members of the public to report positive at-home COVID tests to the Montana Department of Health and Human Services, enabling it to track the virus' strength within the population.

Farr said anyone experiencing COVID symptoms should take a test either at home or with a healthcare provider.

“If you are experiencing symptoms, stay home,” she said. “If you've been exposed to COVID, wear a mask for 10 days and monitor symptoms.”

Anyone who tests positive for COVID should isolate from others for five days after symptoms begin. That person should also notify close contacts that they tested positive.