State launches dashboard for COVID-19 data found in sewage

A new kind of dashboard that reports community levels of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in sewage is now live.

Researchers, including Sandra McLellan, UWM professor of freshwater sciences, are documenting the levels of the virus in wastewater from samples taken weekly at treatment plants across the state. That’s because genetic traces of the virus can be found in the feces of infected people.

This new COVID-19 dashboard shows findings from a statewide effort of monitoring the virus load in sewage samples. 

Since many infected people show no symptoms, wastewater surveillance can be a more comprehensive method to gauge spread of the virus than individual testing and can signal when a hot spot is developing.

The statewide surveillance project is a collaboration between UWM’s School of Freshwater Sciences, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services and the Wisconsin State Lab of Hygiene. Samples are tested from treatment plants at all but five of the state’s 72 counties and covering more than 50% of the state’s residents.

Sewage testing has been used for the detection of other infectious diseases. Already the COVID-19 surveillance system has detected the recent surge in cases statewide. It will continue through June 2021 and will make it possible to better understand how the pandemic unfolded in Wisconsin.

McLellan is leading another COVID-19 surveillance project with funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. She and researchers at three other institutions are creating a “startup blueprint” for wastewater surveillance systems that other areas can replicate.

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