Letter from Superintendent regarding Wastewater Testing
October 18, 2020
I want to inform you of a PILOT program we are part of that is connected to Syracuse University (and others) related to COVID-19 that involves the testing of wastewater (sewage) in our school and community. I have embedded some links at the end of this message that will allow you to dive deeper into the content of the science; however, I want to use this message to convey the basics.
Monitoring sewage for traces of pathogens has been used for decades around the world to provide a signal of whether a particular pathogen is present in the population and whether that transmission is increasing or decreasing. Researchers around the world and at SU are using this same approach, predominantly in Onondaga County and at several colleges and universities, to surveille COVID-19 pathogens in the wastewater of participating communities and campuses. In fact, just Friday there was a reference to this in the Rome Sentinel.
What we are doing here in Clinton is having the sewage that leaves our schools tested twice a week, once for Cohort 1, and once for Cohort 2, from two different sewer pipes. The way the pipes are connected is that the middle school is on its own, and the high school and elementary school shares one. The test results are shared a few days later and compared to previous measurements. It is important to know that trend data is more important than actual measurements due to the many different variables that are involved i.e. who did or did not use the bathroom that day, who was present that day, were any visitors in the building. It is also interesting to know that an increasing trend usually precedes positive test data the following week or so.
There are many different applications of the information that you can read about in the supplemental links, but the main takeaway for us, I believe, is raising the awareness of a perceived risk and susceptibility during a period of time, which in turn increases vigilance and compliance with non-pharmaceutical interventions such as mask wearing, washing and disinfecting hands, and social distancing.
Back to the basic purposes of this message, which are to:
- Let you know that there has been a very low level detection in Cohort 1 for the high school/elementary school pipe from a test last Tuesday that has appeared again showing an increasing trend. Even though these quantities are very low, they do represent a detection trend and I wanted you to know that and want to emphasize our vigilance with our safety protocols especially this week.
- Remind you that we operate our schools with the assumption that the virus is here and being carried by people in our community, including students, which explains the great efforts we are making related to our non-pharmaceutical intervention procedures.
- While we have had two students and two teachers who have tested positive, there is no indication that those cases are related or have caused transmission to another student or staff on our campus - this shows our procedures are working.
Here are some links to more information on the topic of wastewater surveillance:
- Rome Sentinel
- onondaga county wastewater surveillance sars2 - Google Search Links
- Ohio Department of Health Toolkit
As we learn more about this testing and how we can use it to make decisions and respond to this pandemic locally, I look forward to continuing to keep you informed and learning more about this together.
Take care and be well,