Wastewater and surface monitoring to detect COVID-19 in elementary school settings: The Safer at School Early Alert project
ABSTRACT: Schools are high-risk settings for SARS-CoV-2 transmission, but necessary for children’s educational and social-emotional wellbeing. While wastewater monitoring has been implemented to mitigate outbreak risk in universities and residential settings, its effectiveness in community K-12 sites is unknown. We implemented a wastewater and surface monitoring system to detect SARS-CoV-2 in nine elementary schools in San Diego County. Ninety-three percent of identified cases were associated with either a positive wastewater or surface sample; 67% were associated with a positive wastewater sample, and 40% were associated with a positive surface sample. The techniques we utilized allowed for near-complete genomic sequencing of wastewater and surface samples. Passive environmental surveillance can complement approaches that require individual consent, particularly in communities with limited access and/or high rates of testing hesitancy.