Wastewater monitoring data from North Carolina are now part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention national COVID Data Tracker (CDT) website. North Carolina was one of the first eight jurisdictions in the CDC’s National Wastewater Surveillance System and is one of 13 jurisdictions currently participating in the NWSS and reporting wastewater data in the CDT.
Wastewater monitoring tracks COVID-19 trends at the community level. It has become an important tool for tracking the COVID-19 pandemic as testing behaviors and access have changed over the course of the pandemic. Wastewater measurements include everyone in a community regardless of whether they have been tested and can be completed at a fraction of the cost of clinical COVID-19 testing. The data can also provide an early indicator of COVID trends even before changes can be seen in the numbers of reported cases.
Wastewater monitoring can only be used in areas that have wastewater treatment systems, which in North Carolina, covers approximately 50% of the state’s population.
The North Carolina Wastewater Monitoring Network works with partners to collect samples twice a week, which are then analyzed and reported weekly on the COVID-19 dashboard. The network began submitting data one year ago in January 2021 to the CDC and has now expanded to include 24 sites across the state, with five new sites in Wake County added last week. At least 12 additional sites will be added soon in different areas of the state.
People with COVID-19 shed viral particles in their stool. These viral particles are pieces of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19 when still intact. In wastewater, the particles are no longer infectious but can still be measured using sensitive laboratory techniques.
The project is a collaboration between the NC Department of Health and Human Services, University of North Carolina system researchers, wastewater utilities and public health departments. Wastewater monitoring has been part of the statewide metrics tracked on the NCDHHS COVID-19 dashboard since May 2021.
The CDC COVID Data Tracker website provides maps and charts tracking cases, deaths and trends of COVID-19 in the United States, updated daily.