New York State Department of Health Announces Wastewater Surveillance Expansion and Increased Disease Monitoring Capabilities
Strengthening Early Warning Detection Tools, NYSDOH's Wastewater Surveillance Program Integral to Advanced COVID-19 Tracking and Nation-Leading Polio Efforts
21.6M Funding Will Grow NYSDOH's Network to Over 215 Participating Plants, Reaching 16 Million New Yorkers
New Testing Launching for Additional Pathogens Including Flu, RSV, Hepatitis A, Norovirus, and Antimicrobial-Resistant Genes
View Images of NYSDOH's Wastewater Testing and a Participating Treatment Plant Here
ALBANY, N.Y. (January 23, 2023) – The New York State Department of Health today announced new investment to expand the State's nation-leading wastewater surveillance program, furthering New York's preparedness to combat the spread of infectious diseases. Wastewater surveillance, a process by which sewage samples (containing feces flushed down the toilet) are collected from treatment plants and sent to laboratories for testing, can provide early detection for both symptomatic and asymptomatic virus cases in a community, serving as an important indicator of disease burden within an area at any given time. Established in August 2021 to support the State's COVID-19 pandemic response, NYSDOH's Wastewater Surveillance Network has proven integral to the advanced tracking of COVID-19 and, more recently, to the detection of poliovirus in certain areas.
The new $21.6 million funding, which includes a $6.6 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) alongside Governor Hochul's fiscal year 2023 investment of $5 million each year over three years, totaling $15 million, is driving the launch of new pilot programs to test for additional pathogens including Influenza, Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), Hepatitis A, Norovirus, and antimicrobial-resistant genes. While the State's network already reaches all 62 New York counties, the investment will increase the number of participating sewer sheds from 125 to over 215. This will grow the Department's program to reach over 16 million New Yorkers—81% of the population served by public sewer systems—making it one of the most geographically expanse in the nation.
"Since its inception, the Department's wastewater surveillance has been a key part of the State's most critical public health responses," Acting State Health Commissioner Dr. James McDonald said. "Providing confidential, science-based and community-level information, wastewater monitoring is advancing our tracking of trends for COVID-19 and has been invaluable in identifying polio in communities. These resources directly expand our wastewater monitoring network – and its reach – giving our team additional proactive capabilities to protect and promote the health of New Yorkers against more health threats."
Led by NYSDOH, the State's Wastewater Surveillance Network and program has provided health officials with yet another mechanism to assess COVID-19 circulation in communities. The results are used alongside clinical case information and test data to provide an even more dynamic view of transmission trends. The Department's partners in this work include Syracuse University, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), SUNY Environmental Sciences & Forestry, University at Buffalo, and Stony Brook University.
"The New York State Department of Health has already rapidly expanded wastewater surveillance throughout their state and continues to show excellence in the field through this plan for another expansion," CDC's National Wastewater Surveillance System State Support Lead Epidemiologist John Person, MPH, said. "We are excited to work with and learn from them as they pursue the testing of more pathogens in wastewater."
Following a case of paralytic polio being identified in Rockland County in July of 2022, State Health Department officials quickly adapted its existing network—partnering with CDC and local entities—to test for poliovirus. These monitoring activities, which are ongoing, enabled the State to assess communities for signs of circulating polio and prioritize the public health response to those areas most at risk.
Building on these successful surveillance efforts, the Department is using the new investment and its robust network of partners to conduct pilot studies of additional pathogens including Influenza A, RSV, Hepatitis A, Norovirus, and antimicrobial-resistant genes. The new pilots will launch in selected counties (Erie, Onondaga, Jefferson and Westchester) to inform the future expansion of wastewater surveillance for these diseases.
In collaboration with the Department's world-renown Wadsworth Center, wastewater samples are now also being genetically sequenced to detect variants of the virus that causes COVID-19. These new tools and capabilities allow NYSDOH and local health departments to target their public health action more effectively.
"Wastewater analysis has the potential to add major improvements to disease surveillance. Expansions to the New York State program, including COVID variant analysis and additional respiratory, gastrointestinal and hepatitis pathogens, will facilitate their rapid detection across large sections of the population, without having to test large numbers of individual patients," Chief of Viral Diseases & Director of Virology at the Wadsworth Center and Clinical Professor of Biomedical Science at the State University at Albany Dr. Kirsten St. George said. "This powerful tool will provide comprehensive data for disease threat analysis, and advance warning for early intervention strategies to safeguard public health more effectively."
New York's wastewater surveillance program is supported by a network of partners and treatment plants throughout the State. The expansion to more than 215 partner plants and more than 16 million New Yorkers powers the Department's proactive public health detection systems. The program will also be used to optimize the frequency of sampling and the testing of more viruses of public health concern. Leveraging and enhancing the established statewide wastewater network, New York is now more equipped to respond to emerging public health threats as demonstrated by the recent response to the detection and ongoing monitoring of poliovirus.
"The expansion of the State's wastewater surveillance network will provide even more real-time data and enhanced early warning capabilities, making New York State more secure against infectious disease threats," Principal Investigator & Lead Epidemiologist of the NYS Wastewater Surveillance Network and Associate Professor of Public Health at Syracuse University Dr. David Larsen said. "New York State is leading the nation in scaling this to every county and empowering every local health department with better understanding of infectious disease threats."
The collaboration with wastewater treatment plant operators has been a critical component of the Network's operations from its inception. To build on that activity, the New York State Wastewater Surveillance Network has sponsored a new training course, approved and supported by NYSDEC. Upon completion, operators will receive 2.0 contact hours towards their certification renewal. The training course, "Introduction to the New York State Wastewater Surveillance Network," for wastewater treatment plant operators can be accessed here.
"While the New York State wastewater surveillance network was built for COVID, this expansion will help clinicians monitor and predict occurrences of pathogens that we are more familiar with, like flu and RSV, but also the spread of antimicrobial resistance," Environmental Microbiologist and Associate Professor at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry Dr. Hyatt Green said.
In addition to more training for operations, NYSDOH has and continues to provide education about the importance of wastewater surveillance to New Yorkers. To support these efforts, a new video created in partnership with Syracuse University is available here.
New York State's wastewater data will continue to be shared with CDC's National Wastewater Surveillance System, publicly available at CDC's COVID-19 Data Tracker.
New Yorkers can learn more about the Department's wastewater surveillance efforts here and the State's network here. The latest polio wastewater surveillance results are available at the page here and the report here.