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As Covid Emergency Ends, Surveillance Shifts to the Sewers

May 12, 2023

When the Covid-19 public health emergency expires in the United States on Thursday, the coronavirus will not disappear. But many of the data streams that have helped Americans monitor the virus will go dark.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will stop tabulating community levels of Covid-19 and will no longer require certain case information from hospitals or testing data from laboratories. And as free testing is curtailed, official case counts, which became less reliable as Americans shifted to at-home testing, may drift even further from reality.

But experts who want to keep tabs on the virus will still have one valuable option: sewage.

People who are infected with the coronavirus shed the pathogen in their stool, whether or not they take a Covid test or seek medical care, enabling officials to track levels of the virus in communities over time and to watch for the emergence of new variants.

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