Michigan announces plan to begin statewide testing of wastewater for COVID-19.
The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) and The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) have partnered with the state’s municipalities, health departments, universities and other businesses, offering $10 million in grant funding as part of the state’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, to bring to life an initiative to test wastewater for the virus. The plan is for a statewide network of monitoring systems to be put into place by October 1.
As part of the pilot program, the state will monitor beaches for E. coli as well. All sample collection, lab procedures, data analysis and reporting and community will be handled by EGLE. Local health departments will coordinate with MDHHS to utilize the data in order to determine best next steps. Michigan State University’s Dr. Joan Rose will be developing testing procedures for all involved, and Oakland University has also expressed interest in joining the effort.
“Since nearly 70% of Michigan residents rely on public wastewater systems, this COVID-19 surveillance program has the potential to provide critical, life-saving data on COVID-19 transmission within a large portion of Michigan’s population,” Liesl Clarks, director of EGLE, said. “The ability to predict outbreaks on college campuses, at nursing homes, prisons, and other congregate care facilities could be game-changer in our mission to slow the spread of this virus.”
“Slowing the spread of COVID-19 is the shared priority of every agency within state and local government,” added Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive and chief deputy for health at MDHHS. “This partnership could provide early indicators of COVID-19 in a community and allow public health to take quick actions to protect the health and safety of Michiganders.”
In August of this year, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in collaboration with other federal agencies, announced the implementation of the National Wastewater Surveillance System (NWSS) in response to the pandemic. The data gathered by NWSS is used to help public health officials better understand the extent of coronavirus infections. As part of the nationwide effort, the CDC began putting together a portal for state, tribal, local, and territorial health departments to submit wastewater testing data into a national database. Since that time, there have been announcements made in various areas across the U.S. that such programs were being rolled out at the local level.
“Research has shown that people infected with SARS-CoV-2 shed the virus in their feces,” explained Heather Preisendanz, associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering at Penn State. The university recently rolled out its own effort. She added, “As a result, sampling wastewater for the virus has the potential to give an overall snapshot of its prevalence in the community, as well as identify general locations where the virus is present.”
Andrew Read, director of the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences at Penn state, added that wastewater monitoring can be accomplished at a relatively low cost. He said, “The virus concentrations we are seeing are consistent with what the University is finding through individual testing and demonstrate that wastewater sampling has the potential to serve as an indicator of the virus’s presence on campus.”