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As communities around the world raced to protect their residents from the COVID-19 pandemic, upstate New York needed an innovative approach to public health.
Turning to local universities and Arcadis, the New York State Department of Health piloted a wastewater testing program designed to detect outbreaks before they occur.
Using samples from the wastewater collection system, participating communities were able to evaluate public health before symptoms appeared, anonymously and at a low per-capita cost.
As the COVID-19 pandemic swept across North America and cities grappled for new ways to protect the public, researchers identified that wastewater testing was an affordable and effective way to get valuable insight into community health. With limited testing resources, and the knowledge that asymptomatic carriers could spread the virus, The New York State Department of Health (DOH) pioneered this approach to keep people safe and inform potential reopening plans. Working in truly unprecedented territory, Arcadis worked with DOH and partners to pilot a wastewater testing program in four upstate communities.
Studies have proven that wastewater testing provides about seven days advance notice of the virus’ presence in the community before symptoms appear. However, it requires deep knowledge of the community, wastewater collection systems and testing capabilities to make sure the right data is being collected from the right locations. Familiar with the local collection system, Arcadis’ team used their knowledge to jumpstart in-depth research specific to COVID-19.
Working in truly unprecedented territory, Arcadis’ scientists and engineers rolled up their sleeves to get an understanding of the best-in-class techniques and cutting-edge approaches available to testing wastewater for the virus. In partnership with Syracuse University, SUNY ESF and the analytical laboratory, the team used data trending and epidemiological and analytical methodologies to optimize the technique and identify “hot spots” within communities. Finding these hot spots one week before health officials do can provide actionable information that helps reduce community transmission.
Through the pilot program, the team and DOH gained a deeper understanding of how detecting COVID-19 through wastewater sampling can inform vital public health decisions. Monitoring helps health officials understand where the virus is present at a low per-capita cost, even without people showing physical symptoms or getting tested. As more cities and communities adopt this approach, early detection of the virus’ presence in the wastewater will allow state and local officials to take precautionary safety measures that can prevent future spread while maintaining a layer of anonymity for residents. When cases decrease monitoring wastewater will confirm the decline and ease anxiety regarding the presence of the virus in the community. This will play a pivotal role in helping communities recover from the devastating impacts of COVID-19.