Macomb County using sewage surveillance to trace COVID-19 spread

By: Nick Mordowanec | C&G Newspapers | Published August 28, 2020

 A staffer from contractor HESCO collects a sewage sample in Clinton Township.

A staffer from contractor HESCO collects a sewage sample in Clinton Township.

Photo provided by Macomb County Public Works Office


MACOMB COUNTY — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in collaboration with the federal government, are utilizing a new public health tool to better understand and grapple with COVID-19.

The National Wastewater Surveillance System will not replace COVID-19 surveillance systems but will complement them, by providing a larger and more efficient sample size, data for communities where COVID-19 testing is underutilized or unavailable, and data on a sub-county level.

Wastewater, in this case, refers to sewage. The CDC says it can be tested for RNA by SARS-CoV-2, or the virus that causes COVID-19.

These systems will surveil household or building systems that contain human fecal waste, in addition to water from non-household sources, like rainwater or industrial use.

“There is no information to date that anyone has become sick with COVID-19 because of direct exposure to treated or untreated wastewater,” the CDC states on its website.

About 80% of American households are served by municipal sewage collection systems. The NWSS can capture data on symptomatic or asymptomatic infection, which can be a leading indicator of changes in COVID-19 and how it may burden communities.

In Macomb County, this process started back in May with a pilot project launched by the Macomb County Public Works Office.

About $1 million in federal CARES Act funding received by the county allowed the department to sample seven sewage locations in Clinton Township, which a spokesperson for the department clarified have been sent to a lab for testing.

The goal was to identify coronavirus “hot spots” and make contact tracing more efficient and effective, in order to reduce potential spreading of the virus. Some studies have shown that testing of sewage could detect the presence of the virus two weeks before symptoms are developed, the department stated.

“Our department is an enthusiastic partner with the Macomb County Health Department and hospitals,” said Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller in a recent statement. “This is another tool to assist them in getting ahead of where the spread of the coronavirus is at.”

For more information about NWSS, visit