CDC developing sewage surveillance system for COVID-19

Aug. 24, 2020
The wastewater testing tool will help the agency to understand how COVID-19 spreads in a community.

WASHINGTON, DC -- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in collaboration with agencies throughout the federal government, are initiating the National Wastewater Surveillance System (NWSS) in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The data generated by NWSS will help public health officials to better understand the extent of COVID-19 infections in communities.

While wastewater testing is not intended to replace clinical testing, it can help communities where Covid-19 tests are “underutilized or unavailable,” the CDC says. Wastewater testing could potentially have an enormous reach — 80% of U.S. households are connected to a municipal sewage system.

Depending on the level of virus in the sewage, wastewater testing can also be a leading indicator of a worsening outbreak. People with Covid-19 who show symptoms and those who don’t can discard traces of the virus, allowing scientists to collect data on both types of infection, the CDC says.

CDC is currently developing a portal for state, tribal, local, and territorial health departments to submit wastewater testing data into a national database for use in summarizing and interpreting data for public health action. Participation in a national database will ensure data comparability across jurisdictions.