Coupling freedom from disease principles and early warning from wastewater surveillance to improve health security

David A. Larsen, Mary B. Collins, Qian Du, Dustin Hill, Tabassum Z. Insaf, Pruthvi Kilaru, Brittany L. Kmush, Frank Middleton, Abigail Stamm, Maxwell L. Wilder, Teng Zeng, Hyatt Green

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Infectious disease surveillance is vitally important to maintaining health security, but these efforts are challenged by the pace at which new pathogens emerge. Wastewater surveillance can rapidly obtain population-level estimates of disease transmission, and we leverage freedom from disease principles to make use of nondetection of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater to estimate the probability that a community is free from SARS-CoV-2 transmission. From wastewater surveillance of 24 treatment plants across upstate New York from May through December of 2020, trends in the intensity of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater correlate with trends in COVID-19 incidence and test positivity (ρ > 0.5), with the greatest correlation observed for active cases and a 3-day lead time between wastewater sample date and clinical test date. No COVID-19 cases were reported 35% of the time the week of a nondetection of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater. Compared to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention levels of transmission risk, transmission risk was low (no community spared) 50% of the time following nondetection, and transmission risk was moderate or lower (low community spread) 92% of the time following nondetection. Wastewater surveillance can demonstrate the geographic extent of the transmission of emerging pathogens, confirming that transmission risk is either absent or low and alerting of an increase in transmission. If a statewide wastewater surveillance platform had been in place prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, policymakers would have been able to complement the representative nature of wastewater samples to individual testing, likely resulting in more precise public health interventions and policies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberpgac001
JournalPNAS Nexus
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2022


  • SARS-CoV-2
  • freedom from disease
  • health security
  • wastewater surveillance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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