Monitoring SARS-CoV-2 RNA in sewer systems, upstream of a wastewater treatment plant, is an effective approach for understanding potential COVID-19 transmission in communities with higher spatial resolutions. Passive sampling devices provide a practical solution for frequent sampling within sewer networks where the use of autosamplers is not feasible. Currently, the design of upstream sampling is impeded by limited understanding of the fate of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in sewers and the sensitivity of passive samplers for the number of infected individuals in a catchment. In this study, passive samplers containing electronegative membranes were applied for at least 24-h continuous sampling in sewer systems. When monitoring SARS-CoV-2 along a trunk sewer pipe, we found RNA signals decreased proportionally to increasing dilutions, with non-detects occurring at the end of pipe. The passive sampling membranes were able to detect SARS-CoV-2 shed by >2 COVID-19 infection cases in 10,000 people. Moreover, upstream monitoring in multiple sewersheds using passive samplers identified the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater one week ahead of clinical reporting and reflected the spatiotemporal spread of a COVID-19 cluster within a city. This study provides important information to guide the development of wastewater surveillance strategies at catchment and subcatchment levels using different sampling techniques.
- Passive samplers
- Upstream sampling
- Wastewater surveillance
- Wastewater-based epidemiology