Published on Thu Jul 08 2021

The Impact of Sampling Type, Frequency and Scale of Collection System on SARS-CoV-2 Quantification Fidelity

George, A. D., Kaya, D., Layton, B. A., Bailey, K., Kelly, C., Williamson, K. J., Radniecki, T. S.

With the rapid onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) sampling methodologies for SARS-CoV-2 were often implemented quickly and may not have taken the unique drainage catchment characteristics into account. This study assessed the impact of grab versus composite sampling.

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Abstract

With the rapid onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) sampling methodologies for SARS-CoV-2 were often implemented quickly and may not have taken the unique drainage catchment characteristics into account. One question of debate is the relevance of grab versus composite samples when surveying for SARS-CoV-2 at various catchment scales. This study assessed the impact of grab versus composite sampling on the detection and quantification of SARS-CoV-2 in catchment basins with flow rates ranging from high-flow (wastewater treatment plant influent), to medium-flow (neighborhood-scale micro-sewershed), to low-flow (city block-scale micro-sewershed) and down to ultra-low flow (building scale). At the high-flow site, grab samples were reasonably comparable to 24-h composite samples with the same non-detect rate (0%) and SARS-CoV-2 concentrations that differed by 32% on the Log10 scale. However, as the flow rates decreased, the percentage of false-negative grab samples increased up to 44% and the SARS-CoV-2 concentrations of grab samples varied by up to 1-2 orders of magnitude compared to their respective composite sample concentrations. At the ultra-low-flow site, increased sampling frequencies down to every 5 min led to composite samples with higher fidelity to the SARS-CoV-2 load. Thus, composite sampling is superior to grab sampling, especially as flow decreases.