Wastewater Surveillance for SARS-CoV-2 at Long-Term Care Facilities: Mixed Methods Evaluation

JMIR Public Health Surveill. 2023 Aug 29;9:e44657. doi: 10.2196/44657.


BACKGROUND: Wastewater surveillance provided early indication of COVID-19 in US municipalities. Residents of long-term care facilities (LTCFs) experienced disproportionate morbidity and mortality early in the COVID-19 pandemic. We implemented LTCF building-level wastewater surveillance for SARS-CoV-2 at 6 facilities in Kentucky to provide early warning of SARS-CoV-2 in populations considered vulnerable.

OBJECTIVE: This study aims to evaluate the performance of wastewater surveillance for SARS-CoV-2 at LTCFs in Kentucky.

METHODS: We conducted a mixed methods evaluation of wastewater surveillance following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for evaluating public health surveillance systems. Evaluation steps in the CDC guidelines were engaging stakeholders, describing the surveillance system, focusing the evaluation design, gathering credible evidence, and generating conclusions and recommendations. We purposively recruited stakeholders for semistructured interviews and undertook thematic content analysis of interview data. We integrated wastewater, clinical testing, and process data to characterize or calculate 7 surveillance system performance attributes (simplicity, flexibility, data quality, sensitivity and positive predictive value [PPV], timeliness, representativeness, and stability).

RESULTS: We conducted 8 stakeholder interviews. The surveillance system collected wastewater samples (N=811) 2 to 4 times weekly at 6 LTCFs in Kentucky from March 2021 to February 2022. Synthesis of credible evidence indicated variable surveillance performance. Regarding simplicity, surveillance implementation required moderate human resource and technical capacity. Regarding flexibility, the system efficiently adjusted surveillance frequency and demonstrated the ability to detect additional pathogens of interest. Regarding data quality, software identified errors in wastewater sample metadata entry (110/3120, 3.53% of fields), technicians identified polymerase chain reaction data issues (140/7734, 1.81% of reactions), and staff entered all data corrections into a log. Regarding sensitivity and PPV, using routine LTCF SARS-CoV-2 clinical testing results as the gold standard, a wastewater SARS-CoV-2 signal of >0 RNA copies/mL was 30.6% (95% CI 24.4%-36.8%) sensitive and 79.7% (95% CI 76.4%-82.9%) specific for a positive clinical test at the LTCF. The PPV of the wastewater signal was 34.8% (95% CI 27.9%-41.7%) at >0 RNA copies/mL and increased to 75% (95% CI 60%-90%) at >250 copies/mL. Regarding timeliness, stakeholders received surveillance data 24 to 72 hours after sample collection, with delayed reporting because of the lack of weekend laboratory staff. Regarding representativeness, stakeholders identified challenges delineating the population contributing to LTCF wastewater because of visitors, unknown staff toileting habits, and the use of adult briefs by some residents preventing their waste from entering the sewer system. Regarding stability, the reoccurring cost to conduct 1 day of wastewater surveillance at 1 facility was approximately US $144.50, which included transportation, labor, and materials expenses.

CONCLUSIONS: The LTCF wastewater surveillance system demonstrated mixed performance per CDC criteria. Stakeholders found surveillance feasible and expressed optimism regarding its potential while also recognizing challenges in interpreting and acting on surveillance data.

PMID:37643001 | DOI:10.2196/44657


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