MP Gale Brewer Calls For COVID-19 Early Warning System By Testing Sewage

May 19, 2020

Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer called on Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo to employ the testing of sewage at wastewater treatment facilities for the 

presence and viral load of SARS-CoV-2 to determine the extent of community spread as a non-invasive early warning detection system.

“New York needs a non-invasive early warning system to track novel coronavirus, especially as we stay vigilant and on the lookout for that potential ‘second wave.’ Testing our sewage should be part of the weapons we use to fight this pandemic,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. “We are already testing many individuals with swabs, but sewage testing, which is already used to track drug use and other important public health indicators, allows us to potentially track hundreds of thousands of people in one go.”

“We thank the Borough President for recognizing the importance of using this sensitive, immediate method of monitoring the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 in populations,”  said Matthew Civello, chair of the Manhattan Solid Waste Advisory Board (SWAB). “Our hope in sharing this information on wastewater testing with the Manhattan Borough President was to give New Yorkers a more immediate indicator of the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 in their communities so that they may have more confidence in the reopening of our City and State.”

“Wastewater epidemiology can provide a better measure of coronavirus transmission than tracking cases in the health system. Due to delays and complications in testing as well as asymptomatic and presymptomatic transmission, the amount of coronavirus RNA found in wastewater can provide real-time, unbiased indication of the current coronavirus transmission dynamics,” said Professor David Larsen, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Public Health and an expert in infectious disease epidemiology at Syracuse University. “Scientists from Syracuse University, SUNY ESF, and SUNY Upstate have launched the SARS2 Early Warning Wastewater Surveillance Platform in a number of upstate counties and are ready to scale statewide. This platform provides real-time information on transmission dynamics, instant feedback on social distancing and re-opening society, and over time will be able to forecast hospitalizations with greater accuracy than currently available.”

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“Wastewater analysis is a fast, economic and useful tool currently used to estimate drug consumption in a community. Recent data is showing its utility to monitor SARS-CoV-2 spread in populations,” said Professor Marta Concheiro-Guisan, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in Toxicology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “Its use in NYC will clearly improve the efforts to control the current situation. Here in John Jay, we performed a study using wastewater to investigate drug use in different boroughs of the city and we got very interesting results. In my experience, wastewater analysis is an extraordinary tool to objectively and easily assess drug use in a community.”

“Wastewater-based epidemiology has great potential for tracking the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 in New York City communities unobtrusively, and in near-real time. This approach has been used worldwide to provide information about community-level drug use, and also to monitor for polio and related -viruses,” said Professor Kevin Bisceglia, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Chemistry at Hofstra University. “There are still uncertainties that must be worked out before such data can be fully quantitative, but researchers have demonstrated that it is possible to monitor for presence and absence of the virus, and also for qualitative increases and decreases.

I urge the mayor and the governor to add this tool to their arsenal in combatting SARS-CoV-2. To do this on the community level in NYC would require some infrastructure. Monitoring at wastewater treatment plants probably won’t be fine-grained enough to provide useful data in a city as dense as NYC. You would have to go upstream into the sewers, perhaps to pumping houses, which does make it harder to gather representative samples. As always, the devil is in the details.”

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