Wastewater samples point to Covid spike

March 17, 2022
While the surge could remain relatively low, these quick findings prove the value of wastewater surveillance.

Wastewater monitoring has recently detected a rise in Covid-19 cases across the U.S.

According to NBC News, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed the surge after a Bloomberg article noticed a spike in wastewater sample cases from March 1 to March 10 — rising to double what cases were from Feb. 1 to Feb. 10.

“While wastewater levels are generally very low across the board, we are seeing an uptick of sites reporting an increase,” Amy Kirby, who heads the CDC’s wastewater monitoring program, said in an email to Bloomberg. “These bumps may simply reflect minor increase from very low levels to still low levels.”

The Bloomberg findings note that more than a third of CDC’s wastewater sample sites showed rising rates of Covid-19 for the March 1-10 period. However, reported cases have stayed relatively quite low.

The Value of Wastewater Surveillance

While this surge could be relatively unimpactful, these quick findings prove the value of wastewater surveillance — which had only recently been added to CDC’s COVID Data Tracker.

With in-person testing rates continuing to trend downward, wastewater epidemiology is proving immensely valuable for disease monitoring. It offers a population-comprehensive approach to testing without underrepresenting working-class people. It also puts significantly less strain on general infrastructure compared to in-person tests, which normally require several staff, personal protective equipment, and a secure location to perform even a small number of tests.

Expanding Surveillance Nationwide

Because of the value of wastewater surveillance, CDC is planning on expanding its National Wastewater Surveillance platform (NEWS).

Currently, NEWS surveys 37 states, four cities, and two territories through its 400 active testing sites. CDC has announced that it will be adding up to 500 new testing sites across the U.S. within a few months.

Once the wastewater surveillance system is expanded, it will remain useful after Covid as well; by the end of the year, CDC hopes to monitor antibiotic resistance, foodborne infections, influenza, and even fungal pathogens.

About the Author

Jeremy Wolfe

Jeremy Wolfe is an Editor for WaterWorld magazine. Email him at [email protected].