Pilot programme for COVID-19 monitoring in wastewater launched at Oklahoma

Programme includes CDC, State of Oklahoma, Water Environment Federation, and Hach

A method for testing wastewater for the COVID-19 virus that provides rapid results is being piloted at correctional facilities in Oklahoma through funding from the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The testing technology will initially deploy at five correctional facilities in Oklahoma, and then expand to 20 facilities across the US as a way to quickly identify potential outbreaks, isolate infected individuals, and protect the inmate population.

The programme is being launched through a partnership of CDC, the Water Environment Federation (WEF), the State of Oklahoma, and Hach.

Wastewater surveillance can provide an indicator of rising COVID-19 cases, several days before positive cases and with no individual clinical testing. This is critical in correctional facilities, where close proximity can lead to large outbreaks. It is crucial that correctional facilities quickly identify potential outbreaks and isolate infected individuals to protect the rest of the inmate population.

Currently testing methodology is “complicated, time-consuming”, and requires that samples are collected from the facility and sent out to outside labs for analysis. This might take days to get results, especially in remote facilities. By the time results are received, the data might not be helpful in minimising the spread. By simplifying the method and bringing it on-site at the correctional facility, the data can be produced and analysed in hours, allowing correctional facilities to take action, which can help to make a difference in the spread of COVID-19. The State of Oklahoma has been coordinating all the logistics at the five correctional facilities involved in initial roll-out of the programme.

Hach has provided a monitoring package to each facility which includes a composite sampler, an on-site testing method, PPEs, and all needed reagents for monitoring until December 2021. The partnership will bring the LuminUltra’s GeneCount Q-16 qPCR solution from Hach to correctional facilities utilising funding from CDC. The on-site method is based on an extraction coupled with a laboratory qPCR analyser, which produces results within hours.

Kevin Klau, Danaher vice-president and group executive of the Water Platform, commented: “This time-saving solution provides actionable information so that in the event of a potential outbreak, facility leaders can act quickly. With a long history of expertise in water quality analysis, Hach is excited to partner with CDC, WEF, and the State of Oklahoma to make a difference in the fight against COVID-19 while helping protect prison staff as well as incarcerated men and women.”

Wastewater-based disease surveillance has been used to study the presence and trends in coronavirus infections in communities and is increasingly viewed as a valuable tool during the current pandemic and for future public health research. According to CDC, up to 80% of infected people pass on traces of coronavirus through their waste and so strategic sampling of wastewater can provide information on the infection trends of the virus in a community.

CDC has been working with other federal agencies and entities such as WEF to establish the National Wastewater Surveillance System (NWSS), the government-led wastewater surveillance programme in the US CDC selected WEF to develop, manage, and provide training for a nationwide network of water utilities, public health agencies, and laboratories participating in wastewater-based disease surveillance.