As we enter into the ninth month of the pandemic, scientists and researchers have continued to develop the testing and tracing of COVID-19 in public water resources and wastewater and learn how it impacts public health.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have joined the effort in developing a National Wastewater Surveillance System. The system will help public health officials determine the impact of COVID-10 infections in communities.
The CDC is also creating a portal where public health departments can submit wastewater testing data to a national database. The database will summarize and interpret data to help public health authorities better understand the impact of COVID-19 in their communities.
Early in 2020, the Water Research Foundation (WRF) hosted an international water research summit to study the results of environmental surveillance of COVID-19 indicators in sewer sheds. Water experts at the summit addressed technical issues to further the work that researchers are performing worldwide.
The virus that caused the COVID-19 pandemic, SARS-CoV-2, is part of a large group of coronaviruses. Evidence from previous outbreaks and the current one, in addition to controlled experiments, show that SARs-CoVs are found in wastewater for several days. The presence of SARS-CoVs leads to potential health problems from waterborne and aerosolized wastewater pathways.
According to the article, “Rethinking wastewater risks and monitoring in light of the COVID-19 pandemic” in Nature Sustainability, established wastewater treatment does not entirely remove infectious viruses, especially during a pandemic where there is a high viral load.
Thus, scientists are working on methods for the complete disinfection of SARS-CoVs found in wastewater. New approaches are needed for risk assessment and management to address COVID-19 transmission in wastewater.
COVID-19 is one of several types of SARS viruses that have crossed from animals to the human populations. But none have been as deadly as COVID-19. While the COVID-19, or SARS-CoV-2, is found to exist in wastewater, it is unknown whether it can reinfect populations from its presence in wastewater and in water resources the public consumes.
Researchers at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU), who early on in the pandemic determined that COVID-19 is found in wastewater and sewage systems, are working to determine if it remains contagious over time.
Like SARS, coronaviruses can only survive in temperatures below 20 degrees celsius (68F) for longer periods. The BGU team is working to find out if COVID-19 in sewage is only present but not contagious.
Screening sewage and wastewater systems for COVID-19 give public health agencies the ability to better track the spread of the virus. It can also help public health officials evaluate efforts to contain the virus, such as enhancing public health measures and plan vaccination schedules.
Testing of public wastewater treatment and sewage plants can also show the virus’s presence in communities before people seek testing, providing a better method of determining the reach of COVID-19.
The CDC Website states that there is no information showing anyone becoming infected from COVID-19 due to exposure to treated or untreated wastewater.
The WRF is continuing to collect critical information from experts in infectious disease control, virology, water engineering, outbreak, epidemiology, pandemic trends, and other areas to provide results and educational opportunities to distribute the latest data and information.