US considers airline wastewater testing as COVID-19 surges in China

Passengers wearing protective masks are seen aboard before a JetBlue flight to London at JFK International Airport in the Queens borough of New York City, New York, US, August 11, 2021. (Reuters)

As COVID-19 infections surge in China, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering sampling wastewater taken from international aircraft to track any emerging new variants, the agency told Reuters.

Such a policy would offer a better solution to tracking the virus and slowing its entry into the United States than new travel restrictions announced this week by the US and other countries, which require mandatory negative COVID-19 tests for travelers from China, three infectious disease experts told Reuters.

Travel restrictions, such as mandatory testing, have so far failed to significantly curb the spread of COVID-19 and function largely as optics, said Dr. Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease expert at the University of Minnesota.

“They seem to be essential from a political standpoint. I think each government feels like they will be accused of not doing enough to protect their citizens if they don’t do these,” he said.

The United States this week also expanded its voluntary genomic sequencing program at airports, adding Seattle and Los Angeles to the program. That brings the total number of airports gathering information from positive tests to seven.

But experts said that may not provide a meaningful sample size.

A better solution would be testing wastewater from airlines, which would offer a clearer picture of how the virus is mutating, given China’s lack of data transparency, said Dr Eric Topol, a genomics expert and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Jolla, California.

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About Joel Cholo Brooks 13511 Articles
Joel Cholo Brooks is a Liberian journalist who previously worked for several international news outlets including the BBC African Service. He is the CEO of the Global News Network which publishes two local weeklies, The Star and The GNN-Liberia Newspapers. He is a member of the Press Union Of Liberia (PUL) since 1986, and several other international organizations of journalists, and is currently contributing to the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation as Liberia Correspondent.
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