NV EMPOWER MISSION
The Nevada Enabling the Management of Public health Outcomes through Wastewater Resources (EMPOWER) Program will provide real-time data to track community transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in Southern Nevada. The risk data will be made available to help monitor the emergence and evolution of SARS-CoV-2 variants, antimicrobial resistance alleles, and drugs of abuse. Together, the information will guide the deployment of public health resources.
This project is a collaboration between the Southern Nevada Health District (SNHD), Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA), Desert Research Institute (DRI), and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV).
Genetic material from the virus (SARS-CoV-2) that causes COVID-19 can be present in human waste even when individuals have no symptoms. Tracking the amount of viral genetic material (viral load) in wastewater is an emerging method of monitoring increasing and decreasing trends of the virus in communities.
Wastewater monitoring can provide early awareness of potential outbreaks. This is because people who have been infected can take several days before showing symptoms. As a result, the information can help direct testing and resources during a surge.
Wastewater monitoring cannot directly tell us the number of individuals currently infected with COVID-19. However, as data are collected and trends are identified, that information may be helpful to track the progression of the virus in communities and inform public health strategy.
This data should not be used as the sole method of measuring COVID-19 prevalence. This is an innovative method that may be used in addition to other data sources for the detection of new and re-emerging outbreaks.
We are testing COVID-19 viral load in the wastewater of participating community water systems across Southern Nevada. This is new science for COVID-19 tracking. Nevada is one of the first states to initiate this testing and this is one of the largest scale projects in the U.S.
This page will be updated weekly as new data becomes available.
Additional information on wastewater testing for COVID-19 can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Wastewater Surveillance System (NWSS) Page.
For information on COVID-19 cases and guidance, please visit the SNHD COVID-19 Outbreak Page.
From Samples to Data
Sampling from a manhole to a building - Scientist Liz Dahlmann removing a manhole cover
Sampling from a manhole to a building - Scientists Nabih Ghani and Ed Oh handling sampling pole to collect sewage; a process performed every other day
Sampling from a manhole to a building - Image of sewage flowing below the manhole cover
Sampling from a manhole to a building - Image of the sampling pole with a bottle
Sewage collected from a manhole
Sampling from a wastewater treatment plant - Scientist Dan Gerrity collects sewage from the plant weekly
Sampling from rural communities - Scientist Duane Moser collects sewage from the community
Scientists Lanie Chang and Hayley Baker in the lab processing sewage into DNA & RNA
Scientist Makeda Asare measuring concentration of DNA
Scientist Van Vo analyzing qPCR data to measure viral loads. Measurements are made by examining four gene targets (orf1a, E, N1, N2) to obtain viral gene copies per ml of wastewater. We normalize values by using bovine coronavirus or multiplying by a PMMoV scaling factor.
Representative whole genome sequencing data to identify variants. We use amplicon-based kits to determine the 30,000 letters in the virus genome to find new mutations.
Map of Southern Nevada
Several variants of the COVID-19 virus (SARS-CoV-2) have emerged during the pandemic. Samples with sufficient SARS-CoV-2 genetic material are tested and analyzed for combinations of genetic mutations found in variants.
- Detected Variant(s): Detection of multiple markers unique to lineages.
- Results Unavailable: Viral concentrations are too low to conduct this type of testing.
The data can suggest the presence of variants and can be useful for targeting follow-up public health action in the communities. Using next generation sequencing methods, we can examine the viral genome from wastewater and compare the results to viral genomes obtained through nasopharyngeal swabs.
- Are the variant results representative of a community?
Wastewater testing can be a useful tool for screening for the presence of variants, but requires sequencing of a clinical specimen to confirm their presence in humans. Because humans contribute fecal material to sewage, we are confident that the wastewater results are representative of a community.
- Can we observe variants change over time?
If there is sufficient SARS-CoV-2 genetic material in the wastewater sample, the trends in Southern Nevada can be monitored accurately. Because Las Vegas has a large influx of tourists, some wastewater sites may show more unique trends over time.
- Can variant testing prevent a surge of variants?
These results are useful for informing public health investigations and responses for stopping the spread of COVID-19. Washing hands, wearing masks, social distancing, and vaccinations still continue to be our best strategies in slowing the spread of the virus and new variants. The emergence of variants emphasizes the importance of continuing these measures.
To learn more about variants, visit CDC's Variants of the Virus that Causes COVID-19 webpage.
What does this mean for my Community?
Sewershed monitoring can serve as an early indicator of COVID-19 infection in communities. As trends in the data are identified, SNHD works with communities and local public health authorities to determine appropriate actions to protect public health.
These data provide information, that may allow for rapid implementation of protective measures to help slow the spread of the disease.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I get COVID-19 from the air, water, or soil around a WWTP?
We have no evidence that the virus is viable as it travels through sewage systems.
Can I get COVID-19 from my municipal drinking water?
No. Drinking water is treated to remove pathogens including the virus that causes COVID-19.
Will my community be shut down or have a stay-at-home order issued because of these data?
No. This data alone will not drive a stay-at-home order. Rather, we hope this is a tool for communities to use along with other resources to help protect their citizens.
Can SNHD tell where in the community the virus is coming from?
No. This test looks at the sewer system as a whole, so it is impossible to pinpoint where in a community the virus is coming from.
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Las Vegas, NV 89154-4022