The new era of COVID-19 surveillance

Alternate data sources — such as wastewater surveillance and population surveys — are emerging as the most effective ways to track local COVID-19 virus trends amid unreliable case data and a departure from daily reporting cadences, Betsy Ladyzhets wrote in an Oct. 17 piece for The Atlantic.

Many states have sunsetted their COVID-19 case reporting, and the CDC has scaled back to updating metrics on a weekly basis. The rise of at-home testing also means case numbers are just "the tip of the iceberg," according to Denis Nash, PhD, an epidemiologist at the City University of New York in New York City.

"We're heading into a period where it's going to be increasingly harder to know what's going on with the virus," he told The Atlantic.

To understand how the virus is spreading, many experts are now relying on wastewater surveillance, which can be more consistent than case counts. Newsha Ghaeli, president and a co-founder of wastewater-surveillance company Biobot Analytics, said it is best to watch how virus levels in wastewater change over time. People should consider whether levels are rising or falling and how these levels compare to earlier periods of the pandemic. Although long-term wastewater data can help detect upcoming surges, researchers are still studying how the data corresponds to actual infection levels, as waste patterns can vary according to geography and environmental factors. 

Some experts are also conducting population surveys to capture data from people who may have tested positive for the virus but never interacted with the healthcare system. These surveys can pinpoint the discrepancies between case counts and true infections to help researchers estimate the virus's actual spread.

Read the full article here.


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