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Metropolitan Council: Twin Cities Metropolitan Area Sewershed Pioneers Early COVID-19 Detection

Wastewater surveillance data can show virus trends faster than community testing

COVID-19 virus under a microscope
Shutterstock/Andrii Vodolazhskyi

The Twin Cities Metropolitan Area Sewershed — which monitors wastewater for a population of 2.7 million in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan area — developed a system that can detect and extract the COVID-19 virus in local wastewater.


Viral load in sewage has emerged as an important indicator of the prevalence of COVID-19 in the population served by the wastewater system, often before community testing shows the same trends. The district also provided wastewater samples to several state and national studies, contributing to the emerging science of wastewater epidemiology. Wastewater surveillance data provides public health officials, health care professionals and researchers a more comprehensive and objective picture of COVID-19 prevalence in the community. Combined with other data sources, it informs public health decisions. Additionally, new variants of the virus can be detected in wastewater, providing early warning of their presence and prevalence.


The district offers these recommendations to build and manage a wastewater epidemiology program.

  • Keep up to date on scientific literature and read the popular press to spark ideas on how wastewater utilities can enhance the value they provide to communities.
  • Build relationships with researchers and public health professionals.
  • Share your data broadly and promptly. Wastewater surveillance data is especially valuable for the early signals it provides about population health. Enabling public health, health care and the media to leverage this information allows for better community response to changing conditions.