State Representative Rob Matzie (D-Beaver/Allegheny) has introduced legislation that would marshal wastewater treatment plants throughout Pennsylvania to detect and trace COVID-19 in communities before hotspots have time to develop.
Matzie’s “Targeted Outbreak Detection Act” would rely on already existing infrastructures used by plants to perform routine water sample testing.
“Sending a portion of those samples, on request, to a designated laboratory to test for the presence of COVID-19 would establish a critical early warning system that would arm health authorities with the data they need to better protect our communities,” Matzie said in a statement sent to reporters announcing the legislation.
Matzie noted that testing wastewater for the presence of opioids has been used in recent years as a tool by public health agencies to aid in planning.
“While temperature checks and crowd-size limits are helpful in slowing the spread of COVID-19, these techniques are not practical in the long term,” Matzie said. “Testing for the virus in wastewater would allow health authorities to know if the virus is present before people feel ill and inadvertently spread it, providing a critical way to contain clusters before major outbreaks occur.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is currently building a National Wastewater Surveillance System to collect and analyze data from wastewater facilities, but lacks the authority to mandate local participation.
Maztie hopes to see data collected from wastewater samples help inform public health decisions by state and local health departments related to COVID-19 and other public health emergencies in the future.