The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that hundreds of wastewater treatment facilities across the country will begin submitting water samples for testing for COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday that water samples from wastewater treatment sites across the country will now be submitted to laboratories to detect COVID-19. This data can be used to help communities identify the virus early. Data tracker will also allow you to see the percentage of positive tests in the last 15 days.

Kirby stated that “the advantage of this CDC supported dashboard is that you can compare data across different states directly.”

She said that the information wastewater and sewage can provide about infections is “uniquely powerful”. This is due to its ability detect both COVID symptoms as well as those without.

Kirby estimates that between 40 to 80% of COVID-19 patients shed viral RNA from their feces. She said that research has shown that this shedding occurs “very early” in the course of infection. It is the first sign of the virus. She said that the wastewater data doesn’t affect access to healthcare and availability of clinical testing.

Kirby stated that these built-in benefits can help inform public health decisions such as where to place mobile testing or vaccination sites. “Public health agencies also use wastewater data to predict hospital utilization changes, giving them additional time to mobilize resources or prepare for more cases.”

However, she noted that wastewater data has its limitations. It cannot be used for determining if communities are completely free of COVID-19 and it is also limited in areas with minimal or no sewer infrastructure. Transient populations and areas with lots of tourists can cause the wastewater data to be distorted.

Utility operators dip a bottle in wastewater flow to collect samples. The sample is then sent to a laboratory. The laboratory extracts the virus material from the sample and publishes the results.

The program for wastewater treatment was established in September 2020 and is currently active in 37 states. There are more than 400 sites that have been tested across the country. Kirby stated that 250 additional sites would be opened in the country over the next few weeks.

She stated that she is currently working with different health departments to expand the program so it can also collect data about other pathogens.