COVID-19 Wastewater Surveillance

Tracking the prevalence of COVID-19 among metro area residents

Consolidating wastewater surveillance

The State of Minnesota is updating and centralizing its COVID-19 wastewater reporting system. The updates will combine testing done in the metro area with a statewide monitoring system capable of detecting a variety of viruses in the general population, including COVID-19.

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and the University of Minnesota’s Medical School are consolidating all wastewater monitoring in the state through the Center for Disease Control’s National Wastewater Surveillance System.

As a result, as of Sept. 1, the Met Council is discontinuing the work it embarked on, in partnership with the University of Minnesota Genomics Center (UMGC), to analyze and report findings on the prevalence of the SARS CoV-2 entering the Metro Plant in Saint Paul.

Wastewater surveillance of COVID-19 has become an important tool for monitoring trends with the virus, especially as the use of at-home tests has increased. Our Environmental Services division will continue to participate in this important partnership by continuing to provide samples from our nine wastewater treatment plants for analysis. 

Partnership benefits the region

Over recent years, the Met Council worked with UMGC to test and report weekly on the prevalence of the SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater from a large portion of the metro area. The University of Minnesota has also been monitoring 37 wastewater treatment plants across the state, including the metro, with a Minnesota wastewater treatment plant dashboard.

This new approach is designed to be more sustainable and integrates early viral detection systems for Greater Minnesota. The MDH Public Health Laboratory will also implement a new assay to monitor for SARS-CoV-2 variants from wastewater.

“The work of analyzing and reporting on the prevalence of the SARS CoV-2 virus in the region’s wastewater has been important and rewarding,” said the Environmental Services director Leisa Thompson.

“We’ve learned so much about how wastewater surveillance can and will contribute to public health. The Council will continue to participate in this vital partnership, by continuing to provide samples from an abundance of wastewater that we collect and treat.”

Advancing the work of wastewater surveillance

The University of Minnesota is working with the MDH Public Health Laboratory to verify methods that will allow them to eventually add RSV, influenza A, and influenza B to wastewater monitoring. 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.

“As we address the long-term management of COVID-19 in our communities, we are updating how wastewater surveillance is done in the state,” said Dr. Brooke Cunningham, Minnesota Commissioner of Health. “The new approach will provide better statewide data for COVID-19 as well as future monitoring for other viruses.”

"Going forward, the synergy between MDH and UMN will be a force multiplying effort that serves as an early warning system for pathogens that impact public health," said Mark Osborn, study lead and an assistant professor at the U of M Medical School.

From us to you

We extend special thanks to our partners at MDH, the University of Minnesota Genomics Center, and University of Minnesota Medical School project.

And we thank the public and interested parties across the country for entrusting us with this important data. We're gratified it was put to good use in making decisions that enhanced health and health care.