Wastewater Testing for Coronavirus

Alan Cai

December 30, 2022

Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have indicated that an intriguing new option may be more effective for screening for the coronavirus than mandatory tests at airports. The statements come after the People’s Republic of China announced a complete policy reversal of their prior Zero-Covid strategy to combat the coronavirus.

To understand how the situation developed until this point, observers must first understand the political and health situation in China in the previous months. As coronavirus cases surged across mainland China despite severe coronavirus lockdowns, some Chinese residents across a handful of major cities most impacted by the lockdowns, including Shanghai, staged protests of varying sizes. While police crackdowns were a common sight at every protest, some of which turned violent, the government did drastically reduce lockdown restrictions following the incidents. It is still unclear whether the sudden easing of regulations was directly caused by the protests but evidence strongly suggests a correlation. The Chinese Embassy in Washington has yet to respond to a request for comment from the Brutus Journal.

While the United States joins nearly a dozen other countries in mandating negative covid tests or quarantines for arrivals from China, a few US airports, most recently Los Angeles and Seattle, have additionally taken measures to conduct what is known as “genome sequencing” for positive coronavirus tests.

Viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that induces Covid-19, are composed of a protein shell coating some form of nucleic acid, either deoxyribonucleic acid(DNA) or ribonucleic acid(RNA). Viruses such as the coronavirus employ one or more methods to attach themselves to host cells, in the case of the coronavirus, human respiratory cells, and inject viral DNA or RNA into the cell. The cell is subsequently sabotaged and forced into reproducing more copies of the virus, rather than performing its normal function.

Genome sequencing as aforementioned is the process of sequencing the DNA or RNA of viruses in order to determine their genetic structure. In the case of the coronavirus, genome sequencing is used to determine which variant, or perhaps whether a new variant has infected the victim. China has not released data regarding genome sequencing and a growing community of experts complained that China has stopped cataloging coronavirus-related data, including genome sequencing, cases, and deaths.

Instead of individually analyzing each positive test for evidence of a new strain or variant of coronavirus, some CDC officials are opting to encourage airports to analyze wastewater from planes arriving from China for a more efficient and accurate test. The plan is technically feasible as coronavirus does invade portions of the digestive system and may be found in feces. The National Institute of Health(NIH) notes that the Gastrointestinal Tract has a “high expression of angiotensin-converting enzyme 2” which apparently makes it prone to infections such as the one caused by the coronavirus. A study led by the Urology and Nephrology Research Center and published in the National Library of Medicine database also found a strong correlation between coronavirus viral sheddings and patients diagnosed with the coronavirus, although findings were inconclusive and insufficient evidence was found regarding whether RNA found in urine was pathogenic if found at all.

Although the newly recommended CDC approach to determining whether new variants are spreading from China is interesting and definitely a new revelation, it does not detract from the gravity and severity of the coronavirus situation around the world. Experts and media outlets are suggesting residents in China and around the world brace for another surge in coronavirus cases pending the reopening of China to the rest of the world. Millions continue to be infected while thousands perish daily to the invisible enemy. It is in the best interest of the world for continued international cooperation to restore health and safety to the world and its billions of residents living in fear.