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Pennsylvania Wastewater Surveillance System (PaWSS)

The Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) is currently establishing the Pennsylvania Wastewater Surveillance System (PaWSS). PaWSS will work with wastewater treatment facilities across the commonwealth to measure SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in wastewater. This information can tell us if COVID-19 cases are increasing or decreasing in a
community. In addition, wastewater data can help us track COVID-19 variants across the state.

Wastewater Surveillance and COVID-19

Wastewater can be a valuable source of information for public health. When people are infected with COVID-19, they may shed virus in their feces. This can then be detected in wastewater. In fact, people may shed virus in their feces even if they do not know they are sick. Data collected from wastewater can tell us about the level of COVID-19 in a community. In addition, increases in SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater are an early sign that COVID-19 case counts may also soon increase.

Benefits of using wastewater surveillance include:

  • People infected with SARS-CoV-2 may shed the virus in their feces, even if they don't have symptoms or don't know they are sick.
  • Wastewater data collected from a wastewater treatment plant can provide data on entire communities.
    Trends in wastewater data appear 1-3 weeks before trends in COVID-19 case counts.
  • With increasing use of at-home testing where results are not reported to public health, wastewater data can provide information on increases in case counts in the absence of traditional testing and reporting.
  • Wastewater can be sequenced, allowing for information on current and new variants before cases are found.

Note: While SARS-CoV-2 can be shed by those infected with COVID-19, there is no information available that suggests someone has become sick with COVID-19 because of direct exposure to treated or untreated wastewater.

PaWSS SARS-CoV-2 Dashboard

The PaWSS SARS-CoV-2 dashboard displays trends in SARS-CoV-2 concentrations measured in wastewater samples collected at sites across Pennsylvania. This information may be  used to understand the spread of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania. By selecting a site along the left-hand side of the dashboard, a chart that displays concentrations of SARS-CoV-2 measured over time at that site will appear. The color of the sites' dot on the map corresponds to the SARS-Cov-2 wastewater trend (increasing, stable or decreasing concentrations). The dashboard is updated weekly on Monday mornings. Additional instructions on how to navigate the dashboard are available in a collapsible side panel within the dashboard.

Where Wastewater Surveillance Data Can Come From

Wastewater samples can come from community wastewater treatment facilities or from individual buildings, including:

  • Wastewater treatment facilities (WWTFs)
  • Individual buildings or congregate settings
    • Correctional facilities
    • Dormitories
    • Long-term care facilities
    • Schools

Wastewater Surveillance in Pennsylvania

Information on other wastewater surveillance programs in Pennsylvania can be found here:

Connect with PaWSS

Interested in joining PaWSS or sharing your wastewater surveillance data? Connect with the PaWSS team.

National Wastewater Surveillance System (NWSS)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) launched NWSS in 2020 to coordinate data on SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater. Wastewater data from sites across the U.S. are submitted to CDC. CDC is also funding wastewater surveillance at a select number of wastewater treatment facilities nationally. These include some sites in Pennsylvania. CDC uses these data to conduct analyses and share reports. The CDC shares this data on the COVID-19 Data Tracker.