North Carolina Launches Wastewater Monitoring Network to Detect COVID-19

June 2, 2021

The statewide program is known as the N.C. Wastewater Monitoring Network.

North Carolina launched a statewide wastewater monitoring network to track COVID-19 trends through the use of wastewater sampling.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services announced May 21 it expanded the state’s COVID-19 tracking dashboard to include wastewater monitoring, reported Carteret News-Times. NCDHHS has been testing wastewater samples to look for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, since Jan. 2021.

The statewide program is known as the N.C. Wastewater Monitoring Network and is a collaboration between wastewater utilities, public health departments and researchers, including the University of North Carolina Institute of Marine Sciences’ Dr. Rachel Noble.

Dr. Noble was awarded nearly $2 million through the N.C. Policy Collaboratory last year to research how monitoring wastewater could help fight against COVID-19.

The state is collecting information from 11 wastewater systems involved in the monitoring network including: sites in Beaufort and Newport, Charlotte, Raleigh, Durham, Greenville, Wilmington and more. According to Dr. Noble, at all 11 sites currently involved in the monitoring program, there has been a decrease in the concentration of viral particles recently.

“From a very, very general perspective, we’re doing a lot better than we were in January,” said Dr. Noble, reported Carteret News-Times. “We’re in a plateau. We have a very low amount of virus in our wastewater and we have a very low number of cases being recorded.”

The state plans to expand the surveillance program from the 11 initial sites to around 20 locations, according to Dr. Noble, who also noted that the state includes several rural systems rather than just the larger cities.

NCDHHS and Dr. Noble acknowledged limitations of the wastewater surveillance program, including the fact around 40% of North Carolinians use septic systems for wastewater, reported Carteret News-Times.

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Cristina Tuser