SARS-CoV-2 RNA in Wastewater Settled Solids Is Associated with COVID-19 Cases in a Large Urban Sewershed

Environ Sci Technol. 2021 Jan 5;55(1):488-498. doi: 10.1021/acs.est.0c06191. Epub 2020 Dec 7.


Wastewater-based epidemiology may be useful for informing public health response to viral diseases like COVID-19 caused by SARS-CoV-2. We quantified SARS-CoV-2 RNA in wastewater influent and primary settled solids in two wastewater treatment plants to inform the preanalytical and analytical approaches and to assess whether influent or solids harbored more viral targets. The primary settled solids samples resulted in higher SARS-CoV-2 detection frequencies than the corresponding influent samples. Likewise, SARS-CoV-2 RNA was more readily detected in solids using one-step digital droplet (dd)RT-PCR than with two-step RT-QPCR and two-step ddRT-PCR, likely owing to reduced inhibition with the one-step ddRT-PCR assay. We subsequently analyzed a longitudinal time series of 89 settled solids samples from a single plant for SARS-CoV-2 RNA as well as coronavirus recovery (bovine coronavirus) and fecal strength (pepper mild mottle virus) controls. SARS-CoV-2 RNA targets N1 and N2 concentrations correlated positively and significantly with COVID-19 clinically confirmed case counts in the sewershed. Together, the results demonstrate that measuring SARS-CoV-2 RNA concentrations in settled solids may be a more sensitive approach than measuring SARS-CoV-2 in influent.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • COVID-19*
  • Cattle
  • Coronaviridae
  • Coronavirus Infections*
  • Humans
  • RNA
  • RNA, Viral / genetics
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Wastewater


  • RNA, Viral
  • Waste Water
  • RNA