LISTEN: Wastewater tracking still provides community-level data for COVID-19 infection, even as individual testing has dropped. GPB's Amanda Andrews has more.

Fulton County interns toured the Johns Creek Environmental Campus to learn about wastewater treatment.

Interns tour Fulton County's Johns Creek Environmental Campus. WastewaterSCAN, a nationwide program, collects data on the presence of COVID-19, influenza, RSV and other diseases in wastewater plants including locations in Atlanta and Columbus.

Credit: Fulton County / Instagram

Since the COVID-19 public health emergency ended in May, tracking individual COVID cases has been less consistent. But wastewater tracking still provides important community-level data.

WastewaterSCAN is a nationwide program collecting anonymous data on the presence of COVID-19, influenza, RSV and nine other diseases. The data includes locations in Atlanta and Columbus and is available online.

Program Director Marlene Wolfe said it gets information from water treatment plants.

“If you're infected with COVID, if you're infected with another virus or bacterial infection, markers that show us that that infectious disease is there actually often come out of your body and go down the drain in your spit, in your saliva, you know, other bodily contributions,” she said.

There are currently eight plants set up with the necessary tool to collect samples and test for viruses. Wolfe said this information can also serve as an early warning of increased infections.

“We're entering the fall and colder weather and we're prepared to look at influenza and RSV and other important respiratory viruses as well, and keep an eye out to see whether those COVID numbers do begin to go back up again,” she said.

Data collected is online within 48 hours. Wolfe says the goal is to share this information with city officials and public health leaders.