COVID source callout: “No recent data” at hundreds of sewershed sites

Screenshot of the CDC’s wastewater dashboard. Note all the gray dots indicating “no recent data.”

Anyone who’s pulled up the CDC’s National Wastewater Surveillance System (NWSS) dashboard in the last week or two has likely noticed this trend: hundreds of sewershed sites are currently marked as “no recent data.” I keep a particularly close eye on the sites in New York City, which have been reporting “no recent data” for at least two weeks.

According to the CDC, a site marked as “no recent data” has reported findings from fewer than two wastewater samples in the last 15 days. In practice, it could either indicate that a site actually isn’t sampling its wastewater frequently enough for the CDC’s standards, or it could indicate a lack of capacity to process those samples. Probably, both things are happening at a lot of these sites.

From corresponding with press officers at NWSS, I know that the team is working with state and local health agencies, as well as with individual sewershed sites, to ensure accurate data and standardize reporting. This is a massive task, considering that wastewater surveillance started as a grassroots effort in labs with many different sampling and analytical methods, and I appreciate the NWSS team’s efforts.

But I think they could increase transparency about the sites where recent data isn’t available—either on the dashboard itself or in other public communications. I shouldn’t have to hunt through Twitter replies to find the most basic info about wastewater data updates! Especially when this source is becoming increasingly important in the wake of less reliable case data.

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