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The COVID public health emergency officially ended May 11, 2023, but the SARS-CoV-2 virus continues to change, adapt and evolve, bringing additional challenges. If you’re a community leader, you might wonder how best to protect your community from infectious disease spread — and especially when COVID, RSV and flu cases are expected to spike each fall and winter as people spend more time indoors.

New COVID variants, like XBB, are regularly emerging, and case-monitoring data from state and local public health departments isn’t as timely and actionable as it once was. Since the federal Department of Health and Human Services no longer requires labs to report COVID testing data, local communities must rely on hospital admission numbers to identify concerning trends.

Reversing the Data Deficit

A data deficit leaves community leaders operating in the dark. Making critical decisions as a reaction to an active, uncontrolled trend is particularly frustrating when you know you could get ahead of an outbreak if you had data to support proactive measures.

Fortunately, wastewater surveillance testing offers a simple solution for protecting communities from new COVID variants. Data from wastewater testing are imminently actionable, and the collection process is surprisingly simple.

Some COVID-19 variants may spread faster, cause more severe illness and resist existing treatment.

What To Know About Infectious Disease Variants

Before implementing a wastewater testing plan in your community, it’s important to be clear about why COVID variants matter.

Mutations allow viruses like SARS-CoV-2 to constantly change and evolve. Specific mutations lead to variant strains or lineages of the virus that may have highly undesirable characteristics.

For example, some variants may:

  • Spread faster
  • Cause more severe illness
  • Resist existing treatment

The XBB variant, for example, captured researchers’ attention when it was first identified in early 2023 because it demonstrated an ability to dodge immunity and generated lineages that were more transmissible than previous versions of the virus.

The characteristics of the new variant were cause for great concern because they complicated the already difficult task of keeping communities safe. Since mutation and variation are a natural part of how viruses work, we can expect that new variants will continue to emerge and spread in perpetuity.

It’s crucial to pay attention to new variants, the speed at which they generate and how they differ from the original virus. even though other types of clinical tracking data are drying up, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) actively uses viral genomic surveillance to identify and track COVID-19 variants.

By combining the general variant information from CDC with community-specific data from targeted methods such as wastewater surveillance testing, community leaders can feel confident in taking swift action to protect their communities — for example, monitoring vulnerable populations and providing additional support to the healthcare providers in the community.

Wastewater surveillance can provide an early warning of COVID-19’s spread in communities.
– Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Wastewater Surveillance Testing’s Role in Public Health

Wastewater testing can be a game-changer in monitoring infectious diseases by acting as an early warning system. That’s because people infected with SARS-CoV-2 and its variants shed the through excretion, even when asymptomatic — making wastewater an invaluable tool for detecting the virus’ presence in a community. In fact, variants like XBB can be detected in wastewater up to 1-2 weeks earlier than clinical data.

Early detection allows for the proactive management of outbreaks. This includes alerting the healthcare systems to the potential for a spike in cases that would otherwise overwhelm the hospitals and doctors’ offices. During the pandemic, we learned that the more informed our healthcare system became, the better it was able to handle the volume of citizens seeking treatment.

Wastewater surveillance provides an early warning system that allows community leaders, healthcare systems and providers to prepare for an increase in illness in the community and take steps to minimize its impact.

Wastewater case studies and white papers

Download Shield T3’s white papers, “Wastewater-Based Epidemiology (K-12 and Municipality Pilot Study)” and “Sentinel Surveillance Strategies for Congregate Settings (University Campus),” to learn more about the wastewater testing solutions we implement for our clients.

What To Expect From a Shield T3 Partnership

Any community can benefit from early detection via wastewater surveillance testing. And when you partner with Shield T3, the process is surprisingly simple whether your community is a university campus, company building, small town or large city.

Shield T3’s process involves an initial assessment to determine the best location for sampling, training your team on the sample collection and preparing the samples for transport. Importantly, test results are provided within 24 hours from receipt at our laboratory on an easy-to-read dashboard, enabling prompt action by community leaders

Here are the six steps we’ll follow when you engage Shield T3 for wastewater surveillance testing.

  • Step 1. Initial Assessment – A Shield T3 expert speaks with you by phone about your site or travels to your location to evaluate your needs. We look at plumbing diagrams and other infrastructure components to determine the best places to capture wastewater samples that fully represent most of the population in your community.
  • Step 2. Device Installation – We install Shield T3’s proprietary sampling technology at the strategic location(s) identified during the initial assessment.
  • Step 3. Team Training – Training your team on ST3’s processes is made easy through online training as modules explain every detail — from sample collection best practices to processing the sample for shipping and reinstalling the sample collection device.
  • Step 4. Sample Collection – Once the sampling equipment is in place, your staff will collect the sample, enter it into the system, prepare it for shipping, and send it to our testing facility with an ice pack in a prepaid shipper. Your staff then loads new sample collection media and re-deploys the sample collection device.
  • Step 5. Testing and Results – It’s easy to track your sample once it’s scanned into our system. Shield T3’s testing is conducted in a state-of-the-art, federally regulated facility. Results are available within 24 hours of the sample receipt and displayed on an intuitive dashboard. And you get access to ShieldT3’s “playbook” to guide your decision-making as you review the data and insights provided in the dashboard to Implement actionable mitigation techniques
  • Step 6. Repeat Steps 4 and 5 – After the initial assessment and setup, your community’s wastewater testing program becomes a simple process of periodically collecting samples and sending them in for testing. In other words, you’ll repeat steps 4 and 5 over time on a customized schedule that suits your needs.

Once your staff is routinely collecting samples and sending them in for testing, you’ll have ongoing access to specific data from your community to help you take action to keep your community safe.

Ready to Start Protecting Your Community?

There’s no need for you or your community to be caught off guard by new COVID variants and other infectious diseases. When you partner with ShieldT3 to implement a wastewater surveillance testing plan, you’ll have everything you need to stay ahead of the virus.

Schedule a free initial assessment today, and take the first step toward protecting your community by implementing wastewater testing.