News Feature | February 15, 2022

CDC Adds Wastewater Analysis Data To National COVID-19 Dashboard

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga


In one of the most significant signs of wastewater analysis’ rising prominence among the COVID-19 pandemic, the nation’s primary federal health agency has elevated this data to its public tracking site.

“For the first time, the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] has published data that looks at how much coronavirus is turning up in the country’s wastewater. It added this testing data to its Covid-19 dashboard,” CNN reported. “Because wastewater testing doesn’t depend on people to realize they’re sick and seek out a test, or even to have symptoms at all, it’s often the earliest warning a community has that a wave of Covid-19 infections is on the way.”

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has been one of the biggest drivers of wastewater analysis in modern history, a practice that is conducted by wastewater treatment and industrial operations routinely to ensure their effluent complies with regulatory standards. Earlier this month, reports emerged indicating that the practice has even uncovered mysterious strains of the disease yet to be found in humans.

But as a tool for tracking and attempting to wrangle the spread of COVID-19, wastewater analysis is not perfect.

“There are some blind spots in the system,” per CNN. “Although 80% of homes in the US are connected to sewers, the other 20% or so rely on septic systems. These homes, which are mostly in rural areas, wouldn’t be covered by the testing.”

Perhaps underscoring these limitations, the initial data published to the dashboard does not indicate any clear conclusions about the direction of the COVID-19 pandemic, though presence of the disease appears to be trending down.

“Out of 255 surveillance systems with data, 70 percent showed a decline in the virus over the past 15 days, while the remainder reported increases,” The Washington Post reported. “No clear patterns emerged from the data, and in many cases treatment plants showing increases are next to plants with decreases.”

Regardless of how wastewater data is used, its elevation to the national stage at this critical time is bringing investment dollars and attention to a practice that has been central to treatment operations for decades.

To read more about wastewater analysis, visit Water Online’s Wastewater Measurement Solutions Center.