December 15, 2021
Public Health and Safety
Orange County continues to remain diligent as it monitors rises and falls in the rates of COVID-19, including one of the newer variants of the virus. As of May 2021, the county actively participates in the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Health and Human Services (HHS) National Wastewater Surveillance System. By monitoring wastewater from county water reclamation facilities for SARS-CoV-2 RNA concentrations, officials were able to determine where to place testing and vaccination sites and where to allocate resources.
Orange County Utilities is currently testing wastewater for Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon, Kappa, Lambda, Mu, and Omicron variants. Currently, SARS-CoV-2 RNA concentrations are almost 100% Delta and Delta Plus variants.
“We are proud to participate in this national monitoring system,” said Ed Torres, director of Orange County Utilities. “This test is a safe, non-invasive way for us to monitor the different variants and their impact on our community.”
Sewage is sewage that is discharged away from homes and commercial businesses into sewer systems. In Orange County, wastewater travels through a sewer system made up of a maze of underground pipes and eventually ends up in one of the county’s three water reclamation facilities – the Water Reclamation Facility. Water Reclamation Facility, East Water Reclamation Facility and North West Water Reclamation Facility. Together, these facilities serve approximately 870,000 people.
After the wastewater is collected, small samples (250ml) are taken from each facility throughout the day and sent to a laboratory twice a week. In the laboratory, scientists measure all residual levels of the virus per liter of water. The remnants are non-infectious RNA fragments that are not viable, meaning the virus cannot spread through sewage. The data collected has been invaluable in helping the county better understand the spread of the virus in the region.
“Anyone infected with COVID-19 — whether asymptomatic or symptomatic — will release viral remnants into their wastewater for about 21 days after contracting the virus,” Torres explained. “These remains are decomposed pieces of virus, which means they are not contagious and pose no threat to our customers.”
A common misconception about sewage monitoring is that it invades people’s privacy. But, in fact, monitoring sewage at reclamation facilities allows the county to monitor levels in specific areas of the county, not specific homes, making the system both private and safe.
Orange County Utilities has made its data publicly available through an online dashboard. The data is updated once a week and gives users insight into the results and the testing process. Visit the dashboard at https://www.ocfl.net/watergarbagerecycling/wastewatersampling.aspx.