Wastewater monitoring to shift from Met Council to the UMN Medical School, MN health department

Minnesota is changing its COVID-19 wastewater reporting system.

As of Sept. 1, the Metropolitan Council no longer will be testing samples for SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19. The testing will be handled by the University’s Medical School and the Minnesota Department of Health Public Health Laboratory.

The new system will combine testing done in the Twin Cities with “a statewide monitoring system capable of detecting a variety of viruses in the general population, including COVID-19,” according to the MDH.

Wastewater surveillance of COVID-19 has become an significant tool for following trends with the virus, especially as the use of at-home tests has increased. These at-home test results are not generally reported to public health departments.

In recent years the Met Council has worked with the U’s Genomics Center to compile a weekly report on SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater entering the metro plant in St. Paul. The University has monitored 37 wastewater treatment plants across the state, including the metro, with a public online dashboard updated weekly: Wastewater SARS-CoV-2 Surveillance Study. The dashboard will continue to be updated.

The new approach “is designed to be more sustainable and integrates early viral detection systems for Greater Minnesota,” according to the MDH. “The MDH Public Health Laboratory will also implement a new assay to monitor for SARS-CoV-2 variants from wastewater. The changes fit with the Center for Disease Control’s national wastewater monitoring approach.”

Minnesota Commissioner of Health Dr. Brooke Cunningham said in a statement that the state will continue to update wastewater surveillance to deal with long-term management of COVID-19.

“The new approach will provide better statewide data for COVID-19 as well as future monitoring for other viruses,” Cunningham said.

The U is working with the state Public Health Laboratory on methods to allow for the eventual addition of RSV, influenza A and influenza B to the wastewater surviellance. State health experts are hopeful the expansion to monitoring other viruses will provide useful signals that combined with other disease surveillance can help officials respond more effectively to disease threats.

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For more details about wastewater monitoring system, visit the University of Minnesota’s Wastewater SARS-CoV-2 Surveillance Study page.