Matzie introduces bill to trace COVID-19 through wastewater

Would allow for faster, more effective detection to contain virus’ spread

HARRISBURG, Sept. 18 – A bill introduced today by state Rep. Rob Matzie would establish a more effective way to trace and detect COVID-19 before it spreads by creating a system of testing for the virus in wastewater.

Matzie, D-Beaver/Allegheny, said his H.B. 2883 would establish the Targeted Outbreak Detection Act, creating a wastewater-testing program that is both cost-effective and more efficient than traditional methods of tracking the virus.

“While temperature checks and crowd-size limits are helpful in slowing the spread of COVID-19, these techniques are not practical in the long term,” Matzie said. “Testing for the virus in wastewater would allow health authorities to know if the virus is present before people feel ill and inadvertently spread it, providing a critical way to contain clusters before major outbreaks occur.”

Matzie said implementing COVID-19 wastewater tracing would be feasible and relatively simple because testing resources are already in place.

“Most wastewater treatment systems are already required to perform routine testing of water samples,” Matzie said. “Sending a portion of those samples, on request, to a designated laboratory to test for the presence of COVID-19 would establish a critical early warning system that would arm health authorities with the data they need to better protect our communities.”

Matzie said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is building a National Wastewater Surveillance System to collect data from local wastewater utilities and that, while some forward-thinking facilities are already conducting some testing, the CDC does not have authority to mandate participation.

He added that testing wastewater for the presence of opioids has been a tool utilized by public health agencies in recent years.