Scientists have found another way to identify clusters of COVID-19 outbreaks in communities across the country.
According to a new report from CNN, researchers now test sewage for the coronavirus, checking the samples for signs of COVID-19 infections that often show up in human waste before people present symptoms. “It’s a leading indicator,” researcher Rosa Inchausti told the outlet. “The proof is in the poop.”
Mariana Matus, the CEO of Biobot Analytics, told CNN that testing sewage can often indicate a COVID outbreak before hospitals begin to crowd. Plus, the method can identify more infections since it doesn’t rely on individuals to submit to a COVID test — although the sewage method doesn’t flag sick people individually.
“People start shedding virus pretty quickly after they are infected and before they start showing symptoms,” said Matus, who added: “We are seeing an upturn in the wastewater data, which I think broadly matches what we are seeing across the country. It’s been interesting seeing this almost second wave.”
New U.S. infections have increased 41 percent in the last two weeks and hospitals in several states — primarily in the Midwest — are running out of ICU beds.
RELATED: More Than 40 States Have Spiking COVID Cases and Midwestern Hospitals Are ‘Struggling’ to Keep Up
Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE‘s free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from juicy celebrity news to compelling human interest stories.
On Wednesday, the U.S. recorded the second-highest number of new infections in one day with 81,457, just below the all-time record of 85,085, set last Friday.
As of Thursday morning, more than 8.9 million Americans have tested positive for COVID-19, and at least 227,697 have died from the virus, according to The New York Times.
The White House’s head of coronavirus testing said that the record-breaking numbers of new infections in the U.S. are “real,” and not because of an increase in testing. Testing czar Admiral Brett Giroir confirmed that U.S. COVID-19 cases are rising.
RELATED: More Than 62,000 Used Masks and Gloves Found in Oceans and on Beach Shorelines: ‘A Significant Threat’
“Testing may be identifying some more cases, I think that’s clearly true, but what we’re seeing is a real increase in the numbers,” he told the Washington Post.
“Compared to the post-Memorial Day surge, even though testing is up, this is a real increase in cases,” he said. “We know that not only because the case numbers are up and we can calculate that, but we know that hospitalizations are going up.”
Giroir urged Americans to keep up hygiene practices, wear masks and social distance as the crisis could get worse. “We really have to reengage the public health measures that we know work or those hospitalizations can go up substantially,” he said.
As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from the WHO and local public health departments. PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a GoFundMe.org fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.