Sewers, wastewater could be latest way we combat the spread of the coronavirus

Wastewater monitoring for the new coronavirus could play an important role in reopening society safely.

Jesse Orrall Senior Video Producer
Jesse Orrall (he/him/his) is a Senior Video Producer for CNET. He covers future tech, sustainability and the social impact of technology. He is co-host of CNET's "What The Future" series and Executive Producer of "Experts React." Aside from making videos, he's a certified SCUBA diver with a passion for music, films, history and ecology.
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In the fight against the coronavirus, scientists have been safeguarding us through both testing and the encouragement of social distancing. Another important tool is monitoring the environment, and one group is focusing on our waste and sewer systems.

Peter Grevatt, CEO of the Water Research Foundation, told us about how environmental surveillance of COVID-19 in wastewater could provide us with clues about battling resurgences of the disease.

Watch this: Measuring coronavirus in wastewater could help predict future outbreaks

"Samples are collected at the wastewater treatment plant or also can be collected in the sewer system to get information on other parts of what may be happening in the community," Grevatt said.

Those samples are analyzed and can indicate the presence of RNA from the virus and how strong that signal is in the wastewater, Grevatt said. That strength in turn could show the trends of the occurrence of COVID-19.

In some cases, coronavirus RNA has been detected in a community's wastewater before the first case in that community has been clinically diagnosed.

"Wastewater treatment plants have very detailed maps of their sewer system in the community, and so if you wanted to identify for example whether there was an increased signal in a particular neighborhood in the city, you could go to the manhole that gives you access to that part of the sewer system and collect the sample there and find something out about that particular place," Grevatt said.

For more details from our interview with Grevatt, check out the video embedded in this article.

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