Presentation Time: 11:55-12:15
Home University: UNC-Chapel Hill
Research Mentor: Kathleen Gray, UNC Institute for the Environment
Research Title: Setting up a Wastewater Monitoring Program in North Carolina: Learning to Go with the Flow During a Pandemic
In January 2021, North Carolina began monitoring COVID-19 levels in wastewater at eleven wastewater utilities throughout the state. Influent samples were collected twice a week by wastewater plants and analyzed at a UNC laboratory by droplet digital polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to measure the level of SARS CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Epidemiologic analysis of trends was conducted by state and national scientists and data were published to the public. These data allow local and state health departments to quickly implement public health actions, such as increased testing, vaccination clinics, and public communication. Due to the large amount of data collected and the number of partners involved in the process, determining a method to collect and securely store the results was critical to the program’s success. In response, we created a relatively easy to use, relational online database using REDCap for participating laboratory staff and epidemiologists. Our team also investigated whether precipitation events correlated with increased influent flow on sampling days. To examine this, influent flow and daily precipitation were graphed to visualize trends for the eleven sites. Our results show that precipitation events often coincided with higher influent flow, suggesting higher levels of infiltration by rainwater. This potentially correlates with a dilution of the gene copies per person suggesting an underestimation of COVID-19 levels, however, more research is needed.