New Hampshire has launched a statewide program to monitor COVID-19 virus in sewage, a method of keeping track of the disease that is being used in many parts of the country.
The new state program, announced Thursday, will collect samples from 14 sewage plants for testing at the State Public Health Laboratories in Concord. Data about the prevalence of COVID-19 virus will be published on the NH COVID-19 website.
People infected with COVID-19 shed the virus in their waste even if they don’t have symptoms. Detecting the virus in wastewater has long been seen as an effective tool for determining the spread of the disease in a community, giving public health authorities a heads-up on possible action.
Wastewater monitoring cannot detect outbreaks from specific people or streets, but acts as a general early warning signal of problems.
“Wastewater surveillance can provide useful information as part of a more comprehensive surveillance system, especially as data on the number of individual infections becomes less reliable,” The Department of Health and Human Services said in a press release.
This approach has been used by a few sites in New Hampshire since mid-2020, when Keene State University started doing tests with that city’s sewage (as I noted at the time).
Boston has New England’s most aggressive wastewater surveillance program, with interactive online charts. Last week it announced that it would begin collecting samples at 11 different locations in that city, a move that could help it pinpoint outbreaks in specific neighborhoods as they occur.
The sewage plants announced Thursday for the New Hampshire program range from Merrimack to Berlin, and from Portsmouth to Keene.
No Concord area wastewater treatment facilities are involved, although Concord continues to be part of the National Wastewater Surveillance System run by the CDC, submitting two samples a week. The city recently enrolled in another national effort called Wastewater Scan where three samples are taken from both city wastewater plants twice a week. The city’s data in that program will be online at http://publichealth.verify.com/.
“The Department (of Health and Human Services) engaged with all wastewater treatment facilities in the state, and these were the facilities that chose to participate in the program,” DHHS spokesman Jake Leon wrote in an email response to the Monitor.
The wastewater surveillance program is funded by a grant provided by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).