Sampling and testing wastewater for the presence of COVID-19 markers

RPS is supporting the UK government-led programme through the sampling of sewage for traces of COVID-19 enabling genomic sequencing to support the rapid detection of outbreaks of variants of concern.

Mitigating a global pandemic

Sampling and testing wastewater for the indicators of COVID-19 has been instrumental in supporting the Department of Health and Social Care in detecting hotspots for the virus. The programme is currently providing insights to local health protection teams on the presence of the Delta variant first identified in India.

RPS is supporting the UK government-led programme through the sampling of sewage for traces of COVID-19 enabling genomic sequencing to support the rapid detection of outbreaks of variants of concern.

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Solution

Working together, RPS, Thames Water and the Department of Health and Social Care have implemented a focused regime of targeted sampling in London and the surrounding areas.

Meeting incredibly tight timelines, RPS successfully mobilised significant numbers of highly skilled Engineers equipped with specialist equipment to undertake the work. Urgent response to support the detection of local outbreaks or the identify the presence of variants of concern, which can then be linked to specific communities via the sewage network.

Working to Thames Water network procedures, RPS scouted and selected the sampling sites and ensured measures were in place for safe daily sample collection.

Challenge

Sampling and testing of wastewater provide valuable insight into a wide range of population and environmental metrics.

The Department of Social Care and Government were looking to identify where higher concentration levels of COVID-19 RNA fragments existed and defined by geography to prioritise surge testing and vaccination response efforts.

Benefit

Since late 2020, we have delivered daily, compliant COVID-19 marker sampling services. The results have provided valuable insight to COVID-19 levels within the London and Luton catchment areas and underpinned NHS test and trace activities. And because the sampling and testing is conducted at a community level, this has also supported some local councils to direct their localised testing and public health guidance. 

Wastewater monitoring data indicated that the increase in cases was more likely to have resulted from limited person-to-person transmission. This informed the Luton Borough Council forward outbreak management response, and with their decision to conduct ‘stand up’ targeted testing at ward level and communications regarding the importance of twice-weekly rapid testing.

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