Stay Ahead of the Curve with COVID-19 Wastewater Based Tracking Technology

Unlike the deadly 1918 pandemic where symptoms appeared within hours and fatalities often occurred within a few days, COVID-19 is unusually stealthy. It is able to spread undetected for many weeks before symptomatic cases begin to show up at hospitals and by then it is too late for relatively inexpensive containment measures.

COVID-19's ability to wreak havoc physically, emotionally, and economically is in large part due to its stealth. Thi​​s key characteristic has sparked a strong and persistent wave of investigation in the field of virus detection, especially seeking any method of early detection capable of interrupting the spread before major damage is done.

One of the most exciting developments in this field is the recently proven ability to accurately detect and quantify COVID-19 genetic material in untreated wastewater. This breakthrough has placed a powerful new weapon in the hands of those working to defeat the virus, giving nursing homes, schools, prisons, manufacturers, and public health officials at every level, the chance to detect an impending outbreak weeks earlier than traditional population testing. By using these signals to focus respiratory-tract-testing efforts more accurately, communities are able to mitigate economic damages and better protect the public health.

This weapon, known as wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE), takes advantage of six key factors present in many areas of the world at this time:

  1. An extensive network of sewage lines running from individual buildings to local mains, regional collectors, and terminating at wastewater treatment plants; or going directly to a smaller, local systems such as on-lot septic tanks.

  2. Readily available and long-established methods of wastewater sampling and collection using basic or advanced instruments.

  3. A network of laboratories, many of which are already capable of conducting qPCR to detect and quantify COVID-19 genetic material.

  4. Analytical techniques capable of interpreting lab results; converting them into epidemiological assessments; correlating with other forms of testing; and providing an earlier warning of an impending outbreak.

  5. A wealth of decision makers within business, academia, government and public health sectors highly motivated to protect their own interests and/or the public health.

  6. A majority of the population now aware and similarly interested in their own welfare and willing to respond to accurate analyses and instructions.  

Of the six factors above, the two most immediately actionable by anyone interested in WBE are a) the selection and installation of wastewater samplers at appropriate monitoring points, and b) the establishment of one or more working relationships with qualified analytical labs. With those two components in place, further development of the monitoring system can occur at a very rapid pace.​

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