Looking Forward: The Role of Academic Researchers in Building Sustainable Wastewater Surveillance Programs

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COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, Wastewater, research, surveillance


Background: In the span of just two years, tracking the COVID-19 pandemic through wastewater surveillance has advanced from early reports of successful SARS-CoV-2 RNA detection in untreated wastewater to implementation of programs in at least 60 countries. Early wastewater monitoring efforts primarily originated in research laboratories and are now transitioning into more formal surveillance programs run in commercial and public health laboratories. A major challenge in this progression has been to simultaneously optimize methods and build scientific consensus while implementing surveillance programs, particularly during the rapidly changing landscape of the pandemic. Translating wastewater surveillance results for effective use by public health agencies also remains a key objective for the field. Objectives: We examine the evolution of wastewater surveillance to identify model collaborations and effective partnerships that have created rapid and sustained success. We propose needed areas of research and key roles academic researchers can play in the framework of wastewater surveillance to aid in the transition of early monitoring efforts to more formalized programs within the public health system. Discussion: Wastewater surveillance has rapidly developed as a public health tool Clinical testing programs are ramping down and home testing is on the rise, making wastewater monitoring important for future surveillance of COVID-19. Our experience in initiating and implementing wastewater surveillance programs in the United States has allowed us to reflect on key barriers and organizational challenges and draw useful lessons. As wastewater surveillance programs are formalized, the working relationships developed between academic researchers, commercial and public health laboratories, and data users should continue and should promote knowledge co-development. While wastewater surveillance has demonstrated utility for tracking COVID-19, there remain technical challenges and open scientific questions that researchers are equipped to address, which will contribute to building robust surveillance programs that provide public health practitioners with new insights into population health.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.