States are considering testing wastewater to indicate where coronavirus cases are located, and possibly even predict the next hot spot. The EPA is currently conducting a pilot research project.
With test kits still not at the levels health experts would like, and a belief that there are many COVID-19 positive individuals that remain asymptomatic, environmental agencies are investigating the feasibility of testing wastewater to indicate the number of positive cases in communities. The EPA is in the middle of its six month project in Ohio where they are working to develop testing procedures that may later spread to states.
From coverage in Bloomberg Law:
The tests will require knowing how long the virus lives in waste, how to test sewage consistently for the virus, and how to consider wastewater systems where sewage is diluted by industrial waste or stormwater before reaching the treatment plant
Previously studied for use in predicting drug use in communities, some believe that testing wastewater may be able to fill information gaps and allow health officials to determine where to allocate resources to stop the spread of COVID-19. Wastewater testing has previously been useful in the past for tracking the spread of infectious diseases like polio, and some believe the methods could work for identifying areas with a high concentration of COVID-19 positive indivuduals. Thus far two different pilot projects in Massachusetts and Montana have shown encouraging results.
From a commentary piece in Route Fifty:
Although wastewater data does not allow for contact tracing, since the data cannot reveal who in a community is infected, its broad coverage will yield a more complete picture of disease prevalence and trends. If state and local officials invest in this rich, near-real-time data source now, they can give themselves a better chance at preventing second-wave infections and averting future epidemics.