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The use of wastewater as a complementary approach to the surveillance and prevalence of infectious disease is an increasing important resource in battling public health threats such as the COVID-19 pandemic. In some cases, clinical testing resources may be unavailable or underutilized while wastewater is always available in every community. Municipal wastewater provides an efficient pooled sample to detect the presence and concentration of biological or chemical targets within a community. The purpose of this study was to monitor wastewater within three major communities in Nebraska for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) prevalence. Time series of viral loading, analysis of conventional wastewater parameters and evaluation of subcommunity contributions to viral signals were all evaluated in this study. Virus was also measured within various locations within the treatment plant to determine the potential for removal via wastewater disinfection processes. Results indicate the absence of the virus in wastewater treatment plant effluent, both before and after UV disinfection. Time course analysis shows that viral loading typically tracks with community case rates over time. Our results also demonstrate that the contribution of different locations within the wastewater collection system to overall viral loading changed over the course of the monitoring period. In this study, wastewater was determined to be an important resource for detecting the occurrence of COVID-19 within a community. The use of civil infrastructure for monitoring public health will continue to grow in the future as we face current and future public health challenges.
Advisor: Shannon Bartelt-Hunt