Environmental Science Division (EVS)a Division of Argonne National Laboratory
Predictive environmental understanding

Argonne scientists track community spread of COVID-19 in wastewater

March 1, 2021

In the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, finding ways to improve testing has been key to addressing the spread of disease. While much effort has focused on testing individual people, scientists have begun to explore large-scale sampling of wastewater to understand patterns of viral transmission over larger areas.

“The idea is that some people might contract the virus and be asymptomatic, but they'd still be shedding the virus,” said EVS ecologist Mark Grippo, who is leading Argonne's effort in wastewater‑based epidemiology. “Wastewater monitoring would give us a window into how the virus spreads throughout a community in the early stages of an outbreak — you can follow not only the initial outbreak, but also the overall trends over time. Plus, once doctors start administering the vaccine, you can see how viral loads change in wastewater.”

This project, known as the Chicago Prototype Coronavirus Assessment Network Node, or PCANN, looks to create a Chicago-based wastewater surveillance system for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The system would provide a noninvasive and cost-effective way to examine community spread of the virus. By giving advance warning of emerging viral hotspots up to a week earlier than traditional tests, wastewater surveillance could give public health workers valuable time to mobilize and protect communities from uncontrolled outbreaks.

Read the full article by Jared Sagoff.

Argonne researchers are investigating how COVID-19 spreads by sampling wastewater from facilities like the one shown here.
Argonne researchers are investigating how COVID-19 spreads by sampling wastewater from facilities like the one shown here. [Source: Shutterstock/hxdyl]
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portrait of Mark Grippo