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(White Plains, NY) – The Westchester County Department of Environmental Facilities (DEF) is partnering with the City University of New York (CUNY) to study the wastewater at County treatment plants to better understand the impact of COVID-19 on large urban areas.

Recently, it has been discovered that traces of the SARS-CoV-2 virus can be detected in fecal matter, and therefore, in sewage collected at wastewater treatment plants. What the study will do is take random samples from various treatment plants to find evidence of varying infection rates among different communities.

From the study proposal: The primary aim of this proposal is to understand the environmental and societal conditions that influence SARS-CoV-2 pandemic transmission chains in large cities, which requires unbiased sequencing of a significant fraction of the virus-infected population.

County Executive George Latimer said: “In Westchester, we pride ourselves on being a leader for the nation when it comes to what County government can do. This partnership is another example of the innovative techniques we can use to advance our community – and encourage others around the Country to do the same.”

Again, from the study: To conduct unbiased sampling across major city subdivisions, we propose a novel approach: we will deep sequence SARS-CoV-2 viruses recovered from samples obtained across NYC-area sewersheds. The resulting sequence information will be combined with high-resolution socio-economic mapping to determine if genotypic diversity can be used to source track pandemic transmission chains. In addition, our data will allow monitoring changes the virus undergoes as it spreads through communities, and, importantly, to deliver tailored public health information at the municipal level.

DEF Commissioner Vincent Kopicki said: “Our Department is excited to partner with CUNY to help find answers to the pandemic that has thus far only provided more and more questions. Under the County Executive’s leadership, this is another example of forward thinking use of all County resources.”

Dr. John Dennehy (Queens College CUNY), Dr. Monica Trujillo (Queensborough Community College CUNY) and Dr. Davida Smyth (The New School) are leading the project to detect and characterize SARS-CoV-2 in NYC-area wastewater.

Associate Professor of Biology at Queensborough Community College, CUNY Monica Trujillo said: “The City University of New York is proud to assist our communities in combating this terrible pandemic and designing a surveillance system that can assist County decision makers in safeguarding public health. Our preliminary results show that we are able to detect SARS-CoV-2 genetic signal in many of the samples coming from Westchester wastewater treatment plants. We are working hard to improve our detection capabilities to better serve the citizens of Westchester and New York City. We thank Westchester County for working with us on this important project.”