The CDC Has a New Way of Predicting a COVID Outbreak in Your Town

This unusual testing method may help show the real spread of coronavirus in your community.

Stopping the coronavirus spread requires knowing exactly where the coronavirus is spreading. And since some people don't know they have the virus until they're tested because they don't exhibit symptoms, it can be hard to know just how much coronavirus there is in a community. Testing individual people can help, but it's not a foolproof method, and not everyone is getting tested. That's why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has come up with a new way to detect the spread of coronavirus in a certain town or community: testing sewage systems.

In a statement released on Aug. 17, the CDC revealed that they were partnering with the United States Department of Health and Human Services to develop a portal where state, tribal, local, and territorial health departments will submit sewage testing data into a national database. This system will be called the National Wastewater Surveillance System (NWSS).

"The data generated by NWSS will help public health officials to better understand the extent of COVID-19 infections in communities," the CDC's statement read.

workers unblocking sewers

According to the CDC, this sewage—also known as wastewater—can be tested for RNA from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Research has found that SARS-CoV-2 can be shed in the feces of those infected with COVID, whether they're symptomatic or asymptomatic. However, the CDC does note that no research thus far has shown that anyone has become infected with the coronavirus from exposure to the virus in sewage.

This isn't the first time that sewage systems have been tested for diseases. In 2001, sewage testing was used in India as an early detection method for polio. And since the CDC reports that nearly 80 percent of U.S. households are connected to a municipal sewage system, it's a far-reaching way to estimate the spread of COVID in a community, "independent of healthcare-seeking behaviors and access to clinical testing."

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This isn't a replacement for regular community testing or other existing coronavirus surveillance systems, the CDC noted. At the same time, it will help these existing systems by providing "an efficient pooled community sample, data for communities where timely COVID-19 clinical testing is underutilized or unavailable, and data at the sub-county level." With so many ongoing concerns about clinical testing—from decreasing testing numbers in certain states to the risk of false positives–this new method may prove to be a useful addition. And for more CDC efforts, The CDC Just Made a Major Reveal With This New COVID Guideline.

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