Syracuse, NY

Syracuse University and State Health Department to Expand COVID-19 Surveillance in Wastewater

J.M. Lesinski

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A shot of docks along Lake Erie taken in Tonawanda, New York.Photo by J.M. Lesinski

As the omicron variant continues to raise concerns among New Yorkers, a new partnership has been forged between Syracuse University and the New York State Department of Health to combat the virus. New York State Governor Kathy Hochul recently announced the collaboration and it’s continued efforts in studying and analyzing wastewater for COVID-19.

“We’re learning new things about the COVID-19 virus every day, and in order to stay ahead of it, we’ve had to adopt new and innovative strategies for prevention and detection, particularly when it comes to variants,” remarked Hochul of the partnership. “I thank our nation-leading scientists and researchers at the Department of Health, and our academic partners at Syracuse University and SUNY Buffalo, SUNY ESF and SUNY Stony Brook for their efforts to track the virus through the cutting-edge wastewater surveillance program that will undoubtedly be used to inform public health issues well into the future.”

Wastewater surveillance has the potential to provide three to five days warning that COVID-19 cases are increasing or decreasing in a population, and studies have shown it can detect variants through the sequencing of wastewater samples. While New York state relies heavily on human-centric metrics like hospitalizations to track the direction of the pandemic, testing wastewater adds a new level to community surveillance of the virus, without the stress of testing individuals.

“As Omicron and other variants threaten the well-being of our communities, I applaud Governor Hochul for using all the resources necessary to continue New York State’s vigilance in preventing the spread of COVID-19,” State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos said of the partnership. “This new wastewater surveillance partnership builds on the scientific progress underway and will help ensure that additional information is available to support the State’s ongoing efforts to protect public health.”

This new initiative expands on last year’s wastewater monitoring pilot program in select counties, which provided test results showing evidence of COVID-19’s presence in communities across New York state. The new statewide network run by Syracuse University and the New York Health Department will greatly improve coordination efforts for all municipalities.

“We will use every available resource to stem the tide of COVID-19, and I thank the Syracuse University researchers who have made this wastewater surveillance possible,” commented Acting New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett. “This surveillance provides New York with an early warning system for COVID-19 trends, including variants, in advance of observed increases in cases or hospital admissions. While there is still much to learn about this new tool, we expect wastewater surveillance to offer important metrics for local decisions on COVID-19 precautions and help us apply vaccination and testing resources where these are needed the most.”

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I have worked as a professional journalist for over five years now, covering the arts, music, food, politics, and culture up and down both coasts of the United States. I have a B.A. in English from SUNY Fredonia with minors in Psychology and Creative Writing, as well as an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from California State University, Fresno.

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