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Philadelphia to restart wastewater testing program in light of recent rise of COVID-19. cases Credit: Maya Pratt

Philadelphia will restart its wastewater testing program in an effort to monitor COVID-19 outbreaks and gather more accurate data.

Samples from three wastewater sites will be collected twice a week, with plans for additional collection locations throughout the city to help officials more effectively monitor COVID-19 in specific populations.

The Philadelphia Inquirer has reported that Philadelphia wants to use wastewater testing to identify entirely new variants as well — New York has used its testing program to discover previously unknown variants.

Wastewater samples can serve as early indicators of the spread of COVID-19 within a community. According to the CDC, people infected with COVID-19 can shed the virus in their feces — a process that can occur whether an individual is asymptomatic or has yet to feel symptoms. 

By studying samples to detect COVID-19, wastewater surveillance programs can track the virus’ spread without the need for mass routine testing. Research has shown that they could also provide more specific population estimates of COVID-19 case counts.

Philadelphia was among the first to implement a wastewater testing program in May 2020 but has not tracked data in roughly a year since the city’s pilot program ended. 

The city received funding last August to restart its program and join the CDC’s National Wastewater Surveillance System. Wastewater testing will be conducted through July in conjunction with Temple University —  a time period likely to be extended by three to six months, the Inquirer reported.

Penn operated its own pilot wastewater program in 2021 to complement existing mitigation measures such as bi-monthly testing and the University’s vaccination mandate.

Wastewater was sampled from the Hill and Lauder College house buildings, which revealed that data from the samples could track COVID-19, as it aligned closely with the University’s testing data.

The program has since concluded, although the University is considering whether to bring back wastewater testing, according to the Inquirer.