COVID-19 clues in wastewater

Researchers have long known that wastewater can provide a window into the health of the community. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, researchers across the country quickly mobilized and partnered with wastewater agencies including EBMUD.

Whereas a typical coronavirus test provides results for one person, sampling wastewater for the presence of COVID-19 provides an assessment for a larger community. The results are a leading indicator of the status of the pandemic because infected individuals shed the virus in poop even before they show symptoms.

Wastewater Inspectors Kiley (left) and Cheryl (right) extract samples.

Wastewater Inspectors Kiley (left) and Cheryl (right) extract samples.

In March 2020, EBMUD began providing wastewater samples and related data to Stanford University, UC Berkeley and the University of South Carolina. These samples were instrumental in helping researchers develop ground-breaking detection methods to monitor the novel coronavirus for thousands – or even hundreds of thousands, of people at a time.

Since its start, EBMUD has been part of “Wastewater Epidemiology for the Bay Area,” a group which brings together wastewater utilities, public health officers, and laboratories to analyze Bay Area wastewater samples. EBMUD, along with wastewater utilities nationwide, contributes to a US Department of Health and Human Services sampling program, which provides weekly results to public health officials. This data helps public health and medical experts make important logistical and policy decisions regarding public health resources, shelter-in-place orders and educational outreach.

Collaborations, such as these, provide critical information at a time when we must all work together to beat this pandemic. EBMUD is a proud partner in this effort, which takes our mission to protect public health to a whole new level.