City of Lawrence joins national effort to monitor COVID-19 and monkeypox in wastewater

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The City of Lawrence has joined a nationwide initiative to detect infectious diseases, including COVID-19 and monkeypox, in local wastewater, according to a news release Monday.

The initiative is part of WastewaterSCAN, led by researchers at Stanford University and Emory University and aimed at providing local public health officials with tools to respond to crises. Previously known as the Sewer Coronavirus Alert Network (SCAN), the initiative has now advanced to detecting additional viruses along with COVID-19 and its variants, including monkeypox, influenza A, and RSV.

The city is partnering with Verily Life Sciences, a health care technology company, to obtain samples for this project, according to the release. Samples of wastewater will be taken from the Kaw River Wastewater Treatment Plant, located in North Lawrence, to measure viral genetic material in the water.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the city participated in a program funded by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) and coordinated through the University of Kansas that tested wastewater for the virus that causes COVID-19. The sampling concluded at the end of the state’s fiscal year, June 30, 2022. The city had also worked directly with KU before the KDHE-funded program.

“We’re fortunate to have an opportunity to continue our efforts to assist Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health and our community with access to wastewater surveillance data,” Trevor Flynn, municipal services and operations assistant director, said in the release.

August Rudisell / Lawrence Times The Kansas River Wastewater Treatment Plant is pictured on August 19, 2020.

“We have been monitoring wastewater throughout the pandemic and are looking forward to working with Verily on this national project that goes even further. The publicly available dataset will be valuable in helping our public health agencies evaluate infectious diseases here locally as compared to national trends.”

According to a Stanford news release, the scientists who have led WastewaterSCAN were the first in the country to detect and report on genetic markers of the monkeypox virus in wastewater. They made their discoveries in June 2022 in Northern California, and monkeypox has since been declared a public health emergency.

As of Aug. 5, the research team had detected monkeypox DNA in 22 locations around the country. As of Aug. 10, there were no detections of monkeypox via wastewater in Lawrence.

Data on detections in Lawrence can be accessed on an online, public dashboard at Verily Public Health. Check this link for data on monkeypox and this link for COVID-19. Both links include graphs, tables and information on how to understand the data presented.

To read more about the WastewaterSCAN study, visit this link.

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Maya Hodison (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at mhodison (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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