Using Wastewater to Track the Spread of COVID-19

Using Wastewater to Track the Spread of COVID-19

Over the past year, the world has struggled with finding ways to get ahead of the spread of the coronavirus, but a recently launched initiative by the Ohio Wastewater Monitoring Network is enabling us to use wastewater to track the spread of COVID-19. By providing early warning signs of potential case surges, wastewater monitoring is helping us battle the pandemic in communities across our state. Read on to learn more.

Wastewater Monitoring Network

The Wastewater Monitoring Network is a collaborative effort between several statewide agencies, universities, and communities. The network is focused on detecting early indications of possible localized COVID-19 case surges. This partnership includes the Ohio Department of Health, the Ohio EPA, the U.S. EPA, the Ohio Water Resources Center at OSU and many universities, including Kent State, Toledo, and Akron. Together, this sewage monitoring network analyzes wastewater samples from more than 22 cities across the state, testing to see how much RNA from the virus that causes COVID-19 is present. The data provided by the Wastewater Monitoring Network enables community and public health leaders to get ahead of potential COVID-19 surges.

How COVID-19 is Being Tracked in Ohio’s Wastewater

Researchers have discovered, as with other illnesses, that people with COVID-19 (both those with symptoms and those without) shed non-infectious RNA from the virus in their waste. These gene fragments can be detected in wastewater. Samples of wastewater entering treatment plants throughout the state – including the Southerly Wastewater Treatment Plant where we dispose of our clients’ septage – are analyzed by a laboratory to measure the concentration of virus gene fragments present in the water. Increasing levels over time indicate a growing surge of potentially undetected COVID-19 cases, while decreasing levels indicate community spread is falling.

The Benefits of Using Wastewater to Track the Spread of COVID-19

One big issue that makes COVID-19 so difficult to control is that those infected with the illness are often contagious several days before they begin showing symptoms. Long before a positive test result comes back from the lab, people infected with COVID-19 are often unaware they are spreading the illness as they go about their daily lives. Tracking the spread of the illness within communities by testing people with symptoms lags far behind the actual spread of the disease.

However, changes in the concentration of RNA fragments in wastewater can be detected three to seven days before community spread leads to an increase in positive case numbers and hospitalizations. Data from the Wastewater Monitoring Network gives us an earlier indication of a community infection surge and allows us to take preventative measures to slow the spread. In fact, wastewater monitoring has proven helpful in staving off coronavirus surges in several locations across the globe, including Arizona and Australia. Several states across the US have begun similar wastewater monitoring initiatives. The CDC also has created the National Wastewater Surveillance System to monitor the spread of COVID-19 in wastewater on a national level.

Just as we trust the Wastewater Monitoring Network to get ahead of the spread of COVID-19, you can trust us to stay on top of your septic servicing needs. Contact us today to schedule your service visit!

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