Published on Fri Sep 24 2021

Tracking the temporal variation of COVID-19 surges through wastewater-based epidemiology during the peak of the pandemic: a six-month long study in Charlotte, North Carolina

Barua, V. B., Juel, M. A. I., Blackwood, A. D., Clerkin, T., Ciesielski, M., Sorinolu, A. J., Holcomb, D. A., Young, I., Kimble, G., Sypolt, S., Engel, L. S., Noble, R. T., Munir, M.

The global spread of SARS-CoV-2 has continued to be a serious concern. WHO declared the virus the causative agent of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) a global pandemic. Monitoring of wastewater is a useful tool for assessing community prevalence.

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Abstract

The global spread of SARS-CoV-2 has continued to be a serious concern after WHO declared the virus the causative agent of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) a global pandemic. Monitoring of wastewater is a useful tool for assessing community prevalence given that fecal shedding of SARS-CoV-2 occurs in high concentrations by infected individuals, regardless of whether they are asymptomatic or symptomatic. Using tools that are part of the wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) approach, combined with molecular analyses, wastewater monitoring becomes a key piece of information used to assess trends and quantify the scale and dynamics of COVID-19 infection in a specific community, municipality, or area of service. This study investigates a six-month long SARS-CoV-2 RNA quantification in influent wastewater from four municipal wastewater treatment plants (WWTP) serving the Charlotte region of North Carolina (NC) using both RT-qPCR and RT-ddPCR platforms. Influent wastewater was analyzed for the nucleocapsid (N) genes N1 and N2. Both RT-qPCR and RT-ddPCR performed well for detection and quantification of SARS-CoV-2 using the N1 target, while for the N2 target RT-ddPCR was more sensitive. SARS-CoV-2 concentration ranged from 103 to105 copies/L for all four plants. Both RT-qPCR and RT-ddPCR showed a significant moderate to a strong positive correlation between SARS-CoV-2 concentrations and the 7-day rolling average of clinically reported COVID-19 cases using a lag that ranged from 7 to 12 days. A major finding of this study is that despite small differences, both RT-qPCR and RT-ddPCR performed well for tracking the SARS-CoV-2 virus across WWTP of a range of sizes and metropolitan service functions.