News Feature | August 26, 2020

CDC, Department Of Health Launch Coronavirus Wastewater Surveillance System

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga


It’s been well documented that traces of the novel coronavirus, and information about spread and containment, can be found by testing wastewater. For instance, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev researchers developed a methodology for tracing the virus through sewage. And the Water Research Foundation has published specific recommendations for wastewater surveillance of the genetic signal of COVID-19.

And now, in a new effort to contain the pandemic, the country’s top health authorities are focusing on conducting wastewater testing more widely than ever before.

“The [U.S. Centers for Disease Control] in partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and other federal agencies will begin working with state, local, territorial and tribal health departments to collect data on the sewage samples, an effort they call the National Wastewater Surveillance System [NWSS],” CNBC reported. “The goal: To find traces of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, that shed from people and traveled through the sewage system.”

Other countries have leveraged wastewater testing in a similar way, including Finland and Germany.

“Early in the coronavirus pandemic, researchers from China discovered that SARS-CoV-2 could be found alive in fecal matter, meaning it is indeed possible to transmit the contagion through sewage systems,” according to National Interest. “Then in Paris, France, researchers were able to sample sewage across major parts of the city, and they detected a rise and fall in coronavirus concentrations that corresponded to outbreaks in the region.”

The NWSS program is not currently taking samples, but is looking for local partners that can report data to its portal. But it noted that not all wastewater treatment plants will be ideal partners for the program. For instance, sewage that is pretreated before it ever reaches a plant would not be worth testing.

“Communities interested in conducting wastewater surveillance for COVID-19 should identify the necessary local partners for sample collection, testing and public health action,” per the CDC update. “Additional information, including sampling, testing, and interpretation guidance, minimum reporting requirements, and instructions for reporting through the data portal will be updated on this page when they become available.”

For more information about how wastewater treatment plants analyze influent, visit Water Online’s Wastewater Measurement Solutions Center.