Throughout the course of the COVID-19 pandemics, scientists have embraced various methods to more comprehensively track the spread of COVID-19 in communities and across the world. Tracking the spread of COVID-19 through wastewater has proven to be an incredibly effective tool for understanding the true spread of the disease. Scientists measure the concentration of SARS-CoV-2 viral materials present in wastewater to tell how the disease is spreading within a wastewater service area at a particular time.
This tracking is effective because it looks at an entire service area – nearly every person in the service area will be utilizing the wastewater treatment systems, so a more comprehensive, community-wide picture is able to be developed.
Regardless of whether or not a person is tested or even symptomatic, the viral load can be traced through their contributions to the wastewater treatment system. This is particularly valuable, because an increasing segment of the community may be performing at-home tests which may not be reported to state health officials.
Virus shedding begins before a person tests positive or shows symptoms, which means that the virus is detectable in wastewater before a person may seek a test or medical care. This advanced notice can help predict disease trends and provide early warning for future outbreaks.
Sampling in St. Cloud
St. Cloud started sampling and analysis of daily samples starting in January 2022. St. Cloud has a regional wastewater treatment facility and provides wastewater services to 6 cities: St. Cloud, Sartell, Sauk Rapids, St. Joseph, St. Augusta, and Waite Park. The facility treats roughly 10 million gallons per day. The COVID-19 data from the St. Cloud treatment facility reflects data across a wide service area.
Currently, the daily samples are being analyzed at the University of Minnesota Genomics Center. There are also samples being sent to the University of Minnesota Duluth Medical Center. These samples are an important service for providing community health updates and advancing scientific knowledge.