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A story in Water and Wastes Digest says that a Dutch city of 150,000 found evidence of coronavirus in its wastewater before any cases had been otherwise detected in the city, just a week after the virus was first detected in the Netherlands.
The good news: This suggests that wastewater-level detection could provide useful surveillance to public-health experts as an accessory to the test, isolate, and trace protocols being discussed as the best means of dealing with the virus until vaccines are available. More information gathered at the community level can help identify hotspots that might be experiencing asymptomatic spread.
The bad news: It still isn't clear whether the virus can actually be transmitted in wastewater, either in the liquid flow or otherwise. Drinking water remains safe, but we also need to show concern for the public-works employees responsible for the collection and treatment of wastewater. They are invisible -- but essential -- front-line workers protecting public health, and they need adequate protection, too!
We have always believed that one of the most important ways to protect workers in the wastewater sector is to keep them in safe, above-ground locations wherever possible -- where fresh air and limited exposure to sewage can preserve their health. With the uncertainty surrounding the transmission of COVID-19, that's suddenly more true than ever. See our presentation "Revenge of the Mole People" for a list of 25 related reasons why it's important to keep wastewater workers above-ground (or as close to the surface) as possible, and 10 ways that lift stations can be designed to maximize that potential to stay high, safe, and dry.