COVID source callout: Nebraska stops reporting wastewater data

The Nebraska state health department has discontinued its wastewater surveillance data page, depriving residents of important COVID-19 updates at a time when cases are rising.

Multiple local news outlets in the state (including the Omaha World-Herald, the Lincoln Journal-Star, and the radio station KIOS) reported the removal. Nebraska’s health department previously shared wastewater updates through PDF reports, published every two weeks; these reports included recent COVID-19 trends along with data about variants sequenced in the state’s sewage.

Now, the health department’s wastewater surveillance page redirects to an error message, reading: “This page is currently unavailable.” The change came as wastewater data in Nebraska and across the country were showing an increase in coronavirus spread, local reporters covering the story have pointed out.

Nebraska’s health department discontinued this webpage due to the federal public health emergency’s end in May, a spokesperson for the agency told the World-Herald and Journal-Star. The agency is still tracking wastewater data, the spokesperson said. But it’s apparently redesigning its public website to include as little information as possible.

“Data continues to be tracked for that program and is available upon request,” the agency spokesperson told local reporters. Nebraska’s wastewater data still appear to be available on the CDC’s dashboard, as well. But new data for Nebraska sites were most recently added to that dashboard in early August, so it’s unclear whether CDC updates will continue after the local page’s end.

Even if the Nebraska health department does continue sending data to the CDC, the national dashboard is less accessible to residents hoping to keep track of COVID-19 trends than the state’s reports were. As I’ve written before, local dashboards and alert systems are always better when it comes to tailoring updates for a specific community.

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